Chilean football expert Maks Cárdenas spoke exclusively to The72 about Blackburn Rovers’ Chilean hero Ben Brereton and how the unlikely striker born in Stoke-on-Trent has captured the hearts of a nation more than 7,000 miles away.
Brereton’s Chilean tale began at the start of the year. The Blackburn Rovers man decided to adorn a Chilean passport of which he’s eligible for as his mother was born in the South American nation, coming after a social media campaign in his honour caught Chile boss Martín Lasarte’s attention. A Chilean football fan and Football Manager enthusiast started the campaign after becoming aware of Brereton’s South American roots and within a year, the Rovers striker would become Chile’s own ‘Roy of the Rovers’.
“The first impression was very weird!” Cárdenas told The72, when asked for his first impression on Brereton joining up with the Chilean national side. “When we knew that there’s a player, somebody from the national team told me there was a player from England from the second division, I said ‘okay, he’s not bad but I don’t think he will be playing, he’s just going to go to Chile and go to a couple of training [sessions].
“We have a lot of players that are from outside of Chile, we have one from Norway that was actually the same in the beginning, Niklas Castro – he’s a centre attacker and he didn’t play badly in the training but he actually don’t play [very much], just a few minutes.
“My first impression was that this guy [Brereton] will be the same but the first game that he actually played was amazing because he showed some character, good positioning, he played like he wanted to play for Chile, with heart. He brings something different to the whole team. We play fast, a lot of passes and direct football and with Brereton we can have something different.”
Brereton was first called up for Chile’s two World Cup qualifiers last month. He wouldn’t make it off the bench but found himself in Chile’s Copa America squad immediately after those two World Cup qualifiers, eventually coming off the substitute’s bench in Round 1 v Argentina to make his debut. He started the next game in Round 2 against Bolivia, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win and thus kick-starting ‘Brereton Mania’.
“The people from Chile don’t know Brereton,” Cárdenas continued. “They don’t know how he play – nothing! Before he play for Chile, it really was like, ‘Ben this’, ‘Ben will be great’, ‘I want to see Ben’ – it was something very different. It was ‘Brereton mania’ but the first game he played he played great… he scored. It’s a story, a very good story to tell. It’s amazing that he played for the England national team when he was young – it’s history.”
There stands a cool 7,260 miles between Blackburn and Chile’s capital city Santiago. Two football loving nations on the opposite sides of the globe brought together by a footballer, born in Stoke-on-Trent and playing his football for Blackburn Rovers in the Championship. Though Cárdenas told The72 that up to 90% of Chile’s international players are from neighbouring countries in South America, mainly Argentina – but never before from England.
“We are from South America,” he said. “We are far away from everything and an English person is playing for us and he’s actually not bad – he played, he scored, he’s funny, he doesn’t speak Spanish, the history is amazing. It’s like a Hollywood story.”
What next for Ben Brereton and Chile?
“I cannot say that he will be starting every game, but he played that good that he will be nominated (called up) at least three or four times more,” Cárdenas explained. “He played good, he was kind with all the players, was a revelation and he actually offered something different for us and we don’t have so many options in attack and that’s the real problem for Chile.
“We have just Alexis Sanchez, Eduardo Vargas because he always plays good for the national team but we have one spot free on the wing, or as a substitute in the centre. Ben Brereton can do both… I’m sure he will continue for Chile. The people love Brereton.”
Cárdenas signed off with a sentiment that sums up ‘Brereton mania’ – the people love him. His enthusiasm for the Blackburn Rovers man was rife throughout the interview and that element of surprise, the feeling that Chile – a nation that has produced some footballing greats of yesteryear in Elias Figueroa, Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamorano to name a few – hasn’t been forgotten by the rest of the footballing world.
The story of Brereton and Chile is much more than a young footballer pledging his allegiance to his mother’s South American roots, but of two polarising worlds coming together through the love of the beautiful game. Brereton’s infectious joy after his goal v Bolivia is an image that will long live in the annals of Chilean football and one which goes to show that, no matter how far lies between two societies in times of great global and local hardship, that football can still be the glue that forms the unlikeliest of relationships.
Our thanks to Maks Cárdenas for this interview – Maks is a Chilean football expert working for the likes of ESPN and Mega.