Chile’s Arturo Vidal avoided dealing a serious blow to his country’s pursuit of their first ever Copa America title. Vidal was involved in a drunk driving accident late on the night of Tuesday, June 16 as he returned with his wife from a casino. Vidal and his wife were rushed to a hospital, where the player did not show signs of any major injuries, while his wife was dealing with an arm injury. Vidal proceeded to spend the night in jail and was presented to a court this morning. Coach Jorge Sampaoli came out and said that Vidal will remain with the team for the remainder of the tournament. What does this mean for Vidal and his current teammates?
Chile is in the midst of qualifying for the quarterfinals of the Copa America, while Vidal has arguably been the team’s best player. The likelihood that Vidal could have been lost for the remainder of the tournament was very high after the severity of the situation came to light. Vidal has three goals in two games, while being the central point in most of the team’s attack against Ecuador and Mexico. However the fact that he is being allowed to remain on the team after drinking and driving, while putting others in harm’s way, is ludicrous. Chile has strict drunk driving laws that normally can carry up to 300 days in jail, a fine and two year license suspension for a first offense.
Chile came into the Copa America with perhaps their best chance ever to finally raise the trophy for the first time in their nation’s history. They have been runners up four times in the past, and while Argentina has Lionel Messi, Brazil has Neymar and Colombia are suddenly championship contenders, Chile has a golden generation of players who beat Spain in last year’s World Cup the way Spain used to beat teams and came one penalty kick shy of making it to the quarterfinals in Brazil. There is a large contingent of players currently playing in Italy’s Serie A, while striker Alexis Sanchez and Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo play major roles for two of the biggest clubs in the world, Arsenal and Barcelona, respectively. The national team roster in the Copa America has an average age of 28.5 combined, meaning that it is a veteran group who perhaps are in prime position to make a run at the CONMEBOL championship.
It is not hard to see the logic behind the fact why the national team and Sampaoli have decided to keep their star player on the team. The fact that they have this wonderful chance to finally be champions of South America was a bigger priority than the image this team will now portray. The image of just another example of a sports team doing everything they can to win, damning consequences as they arise does not seem to bother the Chilean federation.
Should the team have elected to go the other way, the right way in my opinion, and then they could have still been a competitive team. Perhaps with smaller hopes for a championship, but at least one with integrity and one the continent would be proud to call a champion, should they continue on. Players such as Striker Mauricio Pinilla from Atalanta and 35 year old veteran midfielder David Pizarro from Fiorentina could have been asked to step in and help create offense alongside the starting striker duo of Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas, who has Chile’s other two goals in this tournament. Players such as Jorge Valdivia and Charles Aranguiz could have been asked to step up and make up for the offense lost by Vidal’s absence, while back up players Jose Pedro Fuenzalida or Francisco Silva would’ve become regular starters in the midfield. Fuenzalida can play from the right wing, where Vidal can be found often, while Silva would be a defensive midfielder allowing Valdivia or Aranguiz to track forward more.
Instead if Vidal continues to play and continues to lead Chile deep into the tournament, there will be a negative taint on this team, which is a shame since they have some of the best talent in Copa America to still make a run without Vidal. Until yesterday, the argument could have been made that Vidal was the best player in South America with his player stock being the highest it would ever be. If Juventus wanted to sell Vidal, they could have commanded, and received, a high sum for their star midfielder. Unfortunately, that stock only remained at its peak for about a week and we are left wondering what the coming hours, days and weeks will mean for Arturo Vidal and a nation whose hopes he helped raise over the course of two games.
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