Alexis Sánchez and Tocopilla, the origins of Niño Maravilla

You would have to have had a flexible and visionary mind like that of Alexander Jodorowsky to imagine a boy who grew up in a desert and suburban area establishing himself as one of the most sought-after footballers in the world.
Jodorowsky, filmmaker, writer, cartoonist, playwright, poet, you choose in which context and at what level to place his artistic genius, was born in northern Chile. On the one hand, the sound of the sea, on the other, that of the construction sites of mining companies that have always searched underground for precious materials. In his day they cored to extract saltpetre, then they dedicated themselves to copper.

Smell, noise, work, often exploited, always hard, very hard.

Jodorowsky opened his mind from such a place, from Tocopilla. Almost sixty years later, Alexis Sánchez was born, the current Arsenal striker and, above all, the main protagonist of the greatest Chilean generation of fútbol of all time. Alexis began in the stripped fields of that city to develop his incredible organic capacity, to refine his technical skills, a unique psychomotor talent.

A fixation, the soccer ball. A love stimulated by Uncle José, a man who took the place of Alexis’ father, who soon disappeared, leaving mother Martina with the task of raising and feeding the boy. Mum Martina shells seafood and washes other people’s clothes by hand to bring home the necessary pesos for her and Alexis. The talent of this boy is crystal clear, he arrives at the age of fifteen at Cobreloa, the team that launches him, at sixteen he is already the undisputed owner of the youth selections of the Chilean national team.

He became the “Niño Maravilla”, an all-too-banal nickname, as Jodorowsky would say, who, as far as we know, never had a particular feeling with his fellow countryman.

The very first earnings are turned over to his uncle José Delaigue and his mother, but Alexis’ putative family, the Pozzos of Udine, enter the field. Villarreal and Werder Bremen are interested in the boy but the family that runs Udinese convinces everyone and, behind the outlay of almost two million euros, secures the boy’s tag.
They seem like a lot, especially for the canons of the Pozzos, who with a few dollars, then even more than today, fished fabulous prospects all over the world thanks to a unique scouting system. Also for this reason, the care with which Udinese builds a career for him to grow little by little is meticulous. And before Europe, before Friuli, here he is engaged with Colo Colo, the giant of the country, then with River Plate, the giant of the continent.

Step by step, a unique player is built, thanks to a different work ethic, which was probably also formed with the memory of the villagers who paraded in line to go to the mine to break their backs.
Alexis immediately buys Uncle José a house, but when the great successes that he could wish him for more than anyone else arrive, he will no longer inhabit this world.

Sánchez thinks above all of him, when he looks to the sky after his goals in Udine, then with the most important shirt in the world, that of Barcelona, and now in London, at Arsenal.

Above all, with the red one from Chile, the only real Roja in the world, which he managed to take where no one had ever been able to, on the roof of South America. The generation of ’87-’88, that of Vidal, Isla, Medel and, of course, Alexis Sánchez, was the skeleton of Chile that lifted the Copa América for the first time, in 2015, repeating the success the following year.

A lateral or central striker, he counts for little in modern football where the Chilean boy is at his best (because basically there are no roles with preordained tasks, but continuous readings of the playing times), Alexis is a protagonist in the biggest clubs in the world. Sought, over the years, by Juventus, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, before the city fight between the Citizens and Manchester United, who will compete in the winter market to the sound of millions to convince the “Niño” to leave the Gunners prematurely, before his contract expires in June 2018.

We are among the small elite of the greatest.

Tocopilla celebrated it by building a statue in the middle of the city, a bit like in Funchal there is that of Cristiano Ronaldo, on the seafront. Alexis, you come back often. For him, that is the most beautiful place in the world. An unknown and improbable place, where a champion was born. Not even Jodorowsky would have invented a story like that.

Cover photo and in the article ©LaPresse