Black shirt or pale face? That was the question on the lips of the thousands of supporters planning to go to the El Estadio Monumental in Santiago on Wednesday as Chile took on Uruguay in a friendly. It was originally planned as a party, celebrating 100 years of Las Rojas however the mood was darker as Chile said ‘adios’ with thanks to the most popular Argentine in the country. His name is Marcelo Bielsa and this match was the mourning of his resignation as coach of the Chilean national team. Black trousers, black shirts and black balloons were the order of the day as supporters protested against his departure.
It’s a club versus country argument within the Chilean FA that has caused his resignation. Bielsa refuses to work with the newly elected Chilean FA president Jorge Segovia as he feels he doesn’t have the national team’s interest at heart. The fans angry at the loss certainly made their feelings known with some choice songs about Segovia throughout the match. Meanwhile outgoing president Harold Mayne-Nicholls was given a hero’s send off inside the home of Colo Colo at half time with the supporters thanking him for all his work alongside Bielsa as songs of a more loving nature were sang and a video played out on a big screen remembering his time as coach with Las Rojas.
So just who is Jorge Segovia? He is a 48 year old Spanish businessman, yet to gain Chilean citizenship. Segovia won the FA presidential election by six votes, most importantly including the votes of the “big three”, champions Colo Colo owned by Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, Universidad de Chile and Universidad Catolica. Segovia is the owner of Unión Española, a club that had a golden spell in the 1970’s and he is looking for more investment for all the professional clubs in Chile but it’s also not clear what else he has in mind over the next four years. He was dismissive of the chants against him in the El Monumental on Wednesday night and claims to have done everything he could to keep Bielsa. He has had to deal with death threats against him and his family and many a call not to give him Chilean citizenship.
Many of the supporters of the national team are not just blaming Segovia but the president of the country Sebastian Piñera. This is the most interesting aspect of the FA election for me as FIFA have stated many times they don’t like to see government involvement in football associations of nations. It has to be argued that Piñera’s ownership of Colo Colo, the biggest and most successful club in Chile is a interference to some degree.
This was Marcelo Bielsa’s 50th match in charge and the last and he received a very warm and emotional send off from the 45,000 fans present in Santiago. Chile recorded their 28th victory under his tenure. One fan near me who was dressed all in black apart from a pair of white socks to signify the little bit of hope that Bielsa will make a u-turn and this was not the end of the love affair. Their play in the World Cup won them the support of many neutrals. The high tempo and attacking style and formation that Bielsa has used really is a joy to watch and the performance and result was a fitting tribute to the man.
Chile ran out 2-0 winners over a Uruguayan side that offered little once they were reduced to ten men just before half time when Walter Galgano was shown a second yellow card for a studs up challenge on Mark Gonzalez. Uruguay, despite the best efforts of Golden Ball winner Diego Forlan never quite found their rhythm in this game that saw them reach the semi-finals in South Africa.
Chile took the lead through their star man Alexis Sanchez in the 38th minute and then preceded to miss a series of chances in the 2nd half. That was something of a frustrating feature of Chile in the World Cup but on this night they finally sealed the game in the 74th minute with a long range effort from Arturo Vidal. Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera said the ball was worse than the Jabulani as he tried to defend his poor handling on both the goals.
Chile and Uruguay will meet again next year in the group stages of the Copa America in Argentina and it will be interesting to see if these sides can carry on the huge progress both these nations made in 2010.
For more on this story, I was near reporter Gideon Long in the stands and he was reporting on the feeling inside the stadium for the BBC’s ‘World Football Phone In’. Available via podcast.