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La Roja: Where’s the next generation?

Fans are losing patience with Chile’s national football team. Five coaches have cycled through management in the last few years and there are still no replacement for several players of the “Golden Generation.” The clock is ticking with no youngsters headed for the pitch.

After another FIFA round, in which Chile’s national football team, La Roja, had some sour results – it lost to Marruecos and only managed to tie Qatar – fans have the same question that has haunted the team for years: Where’s the next generation of players? Several years and coaches have come and gone, but with no new young players for the team.

Former Chilean footballer Jorge Aravena blames Coach Jorge Sampaoli. “He never worried about finding alternatives,” Aravena said in an interview. Sampaoli took the helm of La Roja in December 2012, after Coach Marcelo Bielsa blazed a successful trail with a group of then-young players known as the “Golden Generation.” They went on to win the Copa América in both 2015 and 2016.

Those young players are not so young anymore. Alexis Sánchez (33), Arturo Vidal (35), Gary Medel (35), and Charles Aránguiz (33) are still part of the main line-up, and primarily because the team doesn’t have any younger talented players to replace them.

Although Aravena says Sampaoli failed the task, four coaches have followed Sampaoli: José Antonio Pizzi, Reinaldo Rueda, Martín Lasarte, and Eduardo Berizzo (currently in the job). They all pursued fresh players but the majority did not have the longevity expected. The only cases of “new” players who have earned permanent places on the squad in the last seven years are Paulo Díaz (28) , Guillermo Maripán (28), Erick Pulgar (28) and Ben Brereton Díaz (23).

Berizzo era

Analyzing La Roja’s last two matches, of the 23 footballers who had minutes in international games, only six are younger than 25. The youngest was Nayel Mehssatou (20). Eduardo Berizzo called up Darío Osorio (18), Clemente Montes (21), Cristóbal Campos (23), and Jeyson Rojas (20), but none of them played a single minute. On the contrary, seven players that saw action against Marruecos and Qatar were over 32.

After the draw against Qatar’s National Team on Sept. 27, Alexis Sánchez had some words for the young players: “I am here to support the young ones, though there are mature players that need to wake up …. I sense that the younger ones can give much more.” The next game for La Roja will be in March 2023, where the team will aim to qualify for the next World Cup in 2026.

By then, Sánchez will be 38 years old, and Vidal and Medel will be 39, respectively three and four years past the average age of retirement for players.

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