Alexis Sánchez gave a revealing interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais in Chile, speaking about his childhood in poverty in Tocopilla and his life at Barça. A translation is offered below.
Q: Do you think you have to understand Tocopilla to understand your achievements?
A: My achievement is that I had an opportunity and I took advantage of it. You have to have luck in life, and I’ve had it. Now I’ve gone from here to over there (Europe), but it’s true that it was not easy to get money to live in Tocopilla. As a kid I washed cars to earn a little money. I was not a great student, I skipped school and went to go play football, alone or with my friends – so if it weren’t for football, I would still be washing cars and pushing carts….
They used to call you “ardilla” (squirrel)?
Yes, because I used to climb up trees and the roofs of houses, jumping patios and going up walls in order to retrieve the balls we lost. And from “ardilla” they gave me “Dilla,” “El Dilla de Tocopilla.” The whole city knew me for football. Football opened doors in my life and has allowed me to help my family, and for that I am very proud.
Who gave you your first boots?
One afternoon Mr. Courtois brought them to me, who was the mayor of Tocopilla and who liked Arauco, my team. I didn’t have shoes because my mother could not afford them. When the mayor gave them to me, I couldn’t wait more than two hours. I took off those Reeboks and went out into the street to play on the cement, with boots made for grass. I was as happy as a dog with two tails.
When did it become clear you would be a footballer?
Since I was little, practically a baby, it was clear to me. I would say to my mother: “Relax, I’m going to become a footballer and it will all turn out okay, we’ll have money.” And she would laugh. I would also say to my friends: “I’m going to give a car to you, a house to you…” I dreamed of cleaning up all of Tocopilla… I have not given my friend the car, he needs to earn it, but I am searching for a way to help Tocopilla however I can – I will find a way. I have made reality the dreams of that boy that played in the street against adults – and they gave me some kicks! But I came back to play against them every time. My football is that of the street.
Is it difficult to play in Barcelona?
Yes, I think so. I’ve had to learn to play football all over again. What I did in Italy I could not do here. Before taking a player on one-on-one I should open up the field, look for space. Before I would always wait for the ball at my feet, try to beat three players, and I was the one that passed the ball into space, because other players opened the field for me.
Villa said that at Barça he focused most on Pedro to understand his movements. And you?
I watch everyone, because they all have something I can learn from. From Iniesta his acceleration, from Xavi how he moves, from Leo how he thinks before receiving the ball, from Pedro how to work. The confidence Guardiola gave me helped me greatly in learning Barça’s play.
Why is that?
He gave me special attention and trusted me. Sometimes he would tell the other players: “pass the ball to Alexis, pass it to his back, he knows how to protect the ball.” That made me feel great, like a Ferrari.
Do you think that you’re now a better player than when you arrived?
I believe that I’ve adapted and that is very important when we talk about the best team in the world. But I’m still not what I can be, I am sure that I can be better, and that I am not playing entirely freely. I have shown that I can beat players here and give an assist, like I did in Italy – but I also have a sense of what I have not yet demonstrated. It’s that at times I want to take a defender on one-on-one but I can’t shoot, because the team is behind me and I know I should pass the ball back to start play over. Ours is a special type of play and I know I have to adapt.
In Chile, do you play differently?
Of course. To begin with, in Chile I feel more free, because it’s a different style. I get less tired with Barça, for [with] the national team I lead the front three, all over the field all game. Barça is unique, there is no other team that plays like this, in history there will not be another team with so much talent, that plays so well.
(On the Chile game): You will probably face Valdés. Will scoring a goal be a big challenge for you?
It’s f**ked. Victor is very good, but I have to score because if I don’t, and Chile lose the match, they’ll never shut up at Barça. It’s nine against one, I’ll have to put up with the jokes all year if we don’t win. If I score a goal at least I could defend myself.
You spoke of how you don’t feel as free at Barça, is it the pressure?
No, in that sense I’ve come to terms with it, it’s only the play. The people pressure me waiting for goals, a pass, and it’s that which I take most seriously. The confidence of a player is everything.
And what was it like living in the circumstances of last season, with Tito in New York?
Last season’s Liga title was an enormous achievement, and it can only be explained by the greatness of our dressing room, the players and technical staff. Tito and Abidal were the pillars which supported the team without being there, because they gave us strength. When you see them fight and you ask yourself why you’re not fighting like they are, and you consider that there are people that live their life without feet, without hands… And why are we here, to live or for what? You have to fight for those who cannot, as well.
Interview by Luis Martin, El Pais. Translated by Eric (@coffingould on Twitter). Image by David Ramos/Getty Images.