Forget Alexis Sanchez, Elias Figueroa was arguably Chile’s greatest ever player, and he snubbed Real Madrid in his prime

WHO is Chile’s greatest ever player?

Younger generations might argue the claims of Alexis Sanchez or Arturo Vidal – a dispute which, it seems, has been taking place inside the dressing room during the most successful period in Chile’s history.

Elias Figueroa can lay claim to being Chile’s greatest ever player
Figueroa, left, was an uncompromising centre half
Figueroa, left, was an uncompromising centre half

A few years earlier there was the partnership, more harmonious if not as triumphant, between Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas, both of whom might be seen as contenders for the title.

But for those of a certain age there is only one true answer. For them, Chile’s best ever is Elias Figueroa.

TOUGH, CLASSY AND A WINNER

A centre back who was as classy and intelligent as he was tough, Figueroa’s international career lasted from the World Cup of 1966 until the one of 1982.

He played a total of 3 World Cups – in between the tournament in England and the one in Spain was West Germany in 1974.

His big tournaments, then, were all in Europe. But he never made the move across the Atlantic at club level.

With the exception of a couple of years towards the end in the United States, his entire club career was spent in South America – and it was his choice.

REJECTED REAL MADRID

Real Madrid came knocking twice. He had already passed the 30 mark and after a decade away was determined to go back to Chile.

The first attempt is more interesting. Figueroa was at the peak of his powers, and after starring in a fine Penarol side in Uruguay he had moved to Brazil to join Internacional.

Figueroa heads clear in a 1974 World Cup match against Germany
Figueroa heads clear in a 1974 World Cup match against Germany
Figueroa played in three World Cups for Chile
Figueroa played in three World Cups for Chile

These days a player in such a situation would be considered insane to turn down Real Madrid. But Figueroa had his reasons.

“I preferred to stay in Brazil because Pele and the best players in the world were there.” It was a different world.

MONEY WASN’T THE DIFFERENCE THEN

There was at the time no great financial advantage in moving to Europe. Brazil paid just as well. As a consequence, the drain of talent was not taking place.

It was still unheard of at the time for Brazil or Argentina to select players who were based abroad for the national team.

That wonderful Brazil 1970 side, who won the Mexico World Cup 50 years ago last Sunday, was entirely made up of home based players, like all Brazil World Cup teams before and a couple after.

For Figueroa, then, the supreme test was not moving to Real Madrid – it was coping with the likes of Pele, Jairzinho and Rivelino in the Brazilian Championship.

TV REVENUE

The change between now and then can basically be put down to one word – television. Back then the market for football was largely restricted to the fans who bought tickets to go to the match.

A packed stadium in Uruguay or Brazil was, in financial terms, much the same as a packed stadium in Madrid.

Figueroa had the opportunity to move to Europe but snubbed a move to Real Madrid
Figueroa had the opportunity to move to Europe but snubbed a move to Real Madrid

Once the game became a televised spectacle, all of that changed. It took a while for football to make the transition.

But by the 1990s, with the rise of cable channels, the structure was in place. In the new world the potential audience was the entire planet.

European football chased it, won it, turned it into money – and so now, even if the Spanish economy has problems, the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona are protected because their revenue streams are global.

A modern day version of Elias Figueroa, then, has no choice.

He may be enticed to Europe by the money. But even if the motivation is purely sporting, if his main ambition is to pit himself against the best in the world, then all roads are leading across the Atlantic.


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By: Jon Boon
Title: Forget Alexis Sanchez, Elias Figueroa was arguably Chile’s greatest ever player, and he snubbed Real Madrid in his prime
Sourced From: www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/11943274/elias-figueroa-chile-greatest-player/
Published Date: Wed, 24 Jun 2020 14:05:14 +0000

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