Blair Newman profiles arguably the best midfielder outside of Europe who's caught the eye of Arsenal and Chelsea...
The 2015 Copa America final had gone down to the wire, 120 minutes of action wielding zero goals as Chile and Argentina fought their way to a penalty shootout. With Gerardo Martino’s men missing two of their opening three kicks, Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez stepped up with victory lying at his feet and converted with a delicate chip to end an unbearably long wait. For the first time ever, Chile could call themselves continental champions. Having written his name in history, Sanchez will return to Premier League duty in August an even bigger national hero than he was before.
Charles Aranguiz had confidently lashed home Chile’s third kick, the one prior to Sanchez’s winner. As usual, the unassuming midfielder did his job in the shadow of his more illustrious compatriots. Yet this summer he could well follow Sanchez back to England, with Chelsea and Arsenal both reportedly interested in signing him. At the age of 26 it would appear that his performances are no longer going unnoticed.
Aranguiz was immersed in football from a young age, with his mother Mariana the manager of Club Deportivo Nuevo Esperanza, a local youth team in his hometown of Puente Alto. He began his professional career with Cobreloa before joining domestic giants Colo Colo. After a short spell in Argentina with Quilmes, however, he was back in Chile playing for Colo Colo’s rivals, Universidad de Chile.
It was with ‘La U’, under the guidance of coach Jorge Sampaoli, that Aranguiz began to blossom. Sampaoli, a renowned disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, gave him an integral linkman role in central midfield as the club won three straight Chilean Primera Division titles and a Copa Sudamericana; the club’s first ever continental trophy. When Sampaoli was appointed as coach of the Chilean national team he immediately ensured there was a place for Aranguiz within his starting line-up.
When Sampaoli was appointed as coach of the Chilean national team he immediately ensured there was a place for Aranguiz within his starting line-up
The 2014 World Cup was Aranguiz’s breakout tournament as he starred for his country in their passage to the second round, where they were eventually knocked out by hosts Brazil on penalties. Despite the relatively early exit, Chile gained plaudits for their high-octane pressing and flowing attacking football, both of which Aranguiz was crucial to. He essentially created Chile’s opening goal of the tournament against Australia and in their second game against Spain he was even more involved.
World Cup adventure
Aranguiz put in an extraordinary shift, working manically in defence before bursting into life on the attack against a Spanish side fighting to remain in the competition after their humbling at the hands of the Dutch.
He was instrumental for Chile’s first goal, running beyond Sanchez to receive a threaded pass before squaring for Eduardo Vargas to poke home. He then sealed victory with a well-taken, improvised finish after the ball fell to him from a deflected Sanchez free-kick. With little backlift, he prodded the ball past Iker Casillas to send the world champions home early. Aranguiz’s lung-busting performances against Spain and in that ill-fated second round clash with Brazil provided European clubs with a glimpse into what he was capable of. However, wanting to emulate Chilean football legend Elias Figueroa, his loan deal with Brazilian club Internacional was made permanent that summer, with a contract until 2018 temporarily warding off any interest from others.
Recent speculation suggests a move to Europe could be back on the cards, with much of the interest surrounding Arsenal and Chelsea. The renewed transfer talk comes on the back of another excellent summer for Aranguiz in which he starred as Chile won the Copa America in their own backyard. He scored twice as Chile came to life in their third group game against Bolivia, helping his team to a 5-0 win, but the goals are just the visible component of a player who often tends to do his best work beneath the radar.
Sampaoli declared Aranguiz to have been the best player at this year’s Copa America post-tournament
Playing at the core of a team that puts such emphasis on organised, high pressing as well as fast, vertical attacking play requires certain characteristics, including durability, diligence and intelligence. It is these traits that would make Aranguiz an ideal addition to almost any club that wishes to sign him, and would allow him to thrive in the hubbub of English football.
Sampaoli declared Aranguiz to have been the best player at this year’s Copa America post-tournament.
The Chilean’s stock, not to mention his confidence, could not be any higher right now, and with a purported valuation of around £10 million he could prove a steal. Perhaps, then, the most important question surrounding his movement this summer is not “will he fit in?” but “who needs him most?”
Bayer Leverkusen and Bielsa’s Marseille are also rumoured to be preparing a bid for Aranguiz, although the midfielder “prefers the Premier League” according to Cesar Behling, one of his representatives. Indeed, when asked about a move to Arsenal, Aranguiz stated: “They’re a great team, it would be a dream.”
However, while Aranguiz could prove a good shuttler for Arsenal, connecting Francis Coquelin to their wonderful attacking talent, he is not quite as technically adept as Santi Cazorla, who had an excellent first season sitting deeper in Arsene Wenger’s midfield. Aranguiz cannot match Cazorla for either passing range or accuracy and the chances of him usurping the Spaniard at the Emirates Stadium are slim.
In this vein, it makes sense that the most persistent transfer rumour links him to Stamford Bridge. A self-effacing, tactically astute and dynamic midfielder such as he could be a viable option for Chelsea in games where they must add greater numbers in the centre of the pitch. Alternately, he could undertake a box-to-box role next to Nemanja Matic and free up Cesc Fabregas to play higher up the pitch.
Reliable defensively with a penchant for making late arrivals in the box to score, Aranguiz can operate effectively at both ends of the field. His versatility, cunning and work ethic makes him exactly the type of player Jose Mourinho would not only appreciate, but get the best out of.
Furthermore, any doubts about the level of club football Aranguiz has been playing should have been completely erased by seeing him stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Sanchez and Arturo Vidal internationally without looking a step out of place.
With John Obi Mikel rumoured to be leaving Chelsea soon, the path would seemingly be clear for Aranguiz’s arrival to bolster the Blues’ central midfield options. While the industrious Chilean may still be relatively unknown in Europe, it seems only a matter of time before he changes that.