After a few months of internal rift in the Chilean FA, Marcelo Bielsa, who had sided with the incumbent president Harold Mayne-Nicholls, tendered his resignation in January 2011, stating that he wouldn’t be able to work with the new board of directors as they were more concerned about the teams they owned instead of the national team.
Chilean fans were devastated, as Bielsa’s attacking and exciting brand of football saw Chile qualify for the 2010 World Cup, achieving important results, such as defeating Argentina for the first time in official matches, and beating Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia, Venezuela and Colombia as visitors, which has always been a problem for Chile.
The new FA faced the task of appointing a new manager to replace the highly popular Bielsa, who was (and is) considered an innovator, and whom Josep Guardiola regards as one of his mentors. Finding an available manager with those credentials was nearly impossible, so the FA had to settle for a lesser option.
Claudio Borghi was the leading candidate, having led Colo-Colo to four consecutive championships in 2006 and 2007. (In Chile there are two tournaments per year, the Clausura and Apertura). After he quit Colo-Colo, he managed Independiente, Argentinos Juniors and Boca in Argentina, leading Argentinos to an unlikely championship in the 2010 Clausura tournament.
As a player, he was hailed as the next Maradona, having both emerged from the youth academy of Argentinos and playing as n°10. He was transferred to AC Milan, and he was selected for the Argentinean national team in the 1986 World Cup, although he only played a few minutes in one game. He then played for teams in Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Chile, where he retired in 1998, never fulfilling his potential.
When he reappeared as a football manager, it was a surprise for fans, who never thought of him as coach material. His first professional experience was with Audax Italiano, a mid-table team in Chile, but then he worked as a coach at a university, which was somewhat odd, given that university competitions don’t have a lot of prestige.
He was hired as the manager of Colo-Colo in 2006 and led them to four consecutive championships and to the final of the 2006 Copa Sudamericana. Never known as a tactician, but as a player’s coach, he nevertheless adopted his preferred 3-5-2, to play Jorge Valdivia and Matías Fernández as n°10, which allowed his side to control the ball and having two talented creative players.
Witty and ironic, and fearful of planes (he couldn’t fly for some away matches and had to be replaced by his assistant coach), he threatened to quit three times due to strained relations with the board of directors. He finally resigned in 2008 and proceeded to manage in Argentina.
After Bielsa quit, Borghi was unemployed, having been fired from Boca following a string of bad results. Borghi was still popular, especially because he had been the manager of Chile’s biggest team, so the FA compromised and chose him as Chile’s National Team manager. The FA fears were due to Borghi being too close to players, which they felt would make it very difficult to control episodes of indiscipline that had been a plague in previous years.
He made his debut in international competitions in the 2011 Copa América, which saw Chile surprisingly eliminated in the quarterfinals by Venezuela, the minnows of South America until only a few years before. Chile was hailed as one of the candidates, and this was the first sign of the troubles that were starting to brew. Borghi was criticized by pundits and fans alike, who still remembered Bielsa as a genius. Borghi then said, in his well-known ironic style, “Bielsa left more widows than World War II.” The term “Bielsa’s widows”, which refers to fans, is used up to date to signify Bielsa’s importance for Chile.
Following the failure at Copa America, Chile started the qualifying stages for the 2014 World Cup. A loss away to Argentina and a victory at home over Peru were expected; what followed next, was completely unexpected. Six players violated a curfew imposed by Borghi because they were celebrating the christening of Jorge Valdivia’s child and arrived 45 minutes late to Juan Pinto Duran (Chile’s training ground) while in a state of intoxication. The FA banned all six for 20 games, pending an appeal which could reduce the ban in half.
Three days later, Chile went to Uruguay and got beaten 4-0, after a brilliant performance by Luis Suarez, who scored the four Uruguayans goals. The next week, Chile defeated Paraguay and everything seemed calm. Away victories against Bolivia and Venezuela saw Chile get to first place in the qualifying stage for the first time, but then the downward spiral started. During the Venezuela match, Borghi was sent off for allegedly insulting the referee, when in fact, it was the substitute goalie, Miguel Pinto, who had sworn the referee. Borghi was banned for five games, which was consequently reduced to four, meaning he wasn’t going to be able to be on the field against Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina and Peru.
Consecutive losses against Colombia (at home), and Ecuador (away), coupled with red cards to Gary Medel and Arturo Vidal, marked the beginning of Borghi’s undoing. Citing lack of discipline and Borghi’s absence, the FA was concerned about not making the World Cup but decided against firing Borghi for the time being.
The players rallied behind him and swore to defeat Argentina in Santiago. Unfortunately, Chile lost 2-1, albeit playing markedly better than in the previous matches. The last straw was in a friendly match against Serbia, in Switzerland. Chile lost 3-1, and again discipline was a concern, as Arturo Vidal was again dismissed for a reckless foul. The FA board, who had travelled to support Borghi, instead decided to sack him on the spot.
A few months before going to Lima to play against Peru, Chile was again looking for a manager. And the chosen one was Jorge Sampaoli.