From the struggle of poverty in a small city named Tocopilla to the glamorous life in London, the emergence of Alexis Sanchez has seen it all. Alexis, now Arsenal supporters’ heartthrob, has endured a lot of pain but his dream of becoming a footballer has prevailed against all the odds, from poverty to the other problems of Devil’s Corner.
Alexis and Devil’s Corner:
As I said Devil’s Corner, it is the nickname of the town where he was born, Tocopilla. There are just two places where the real Alexis Sanchez can be found. One is on the football pitch. The other is in his home city of Tocopilla. A thousand miles north of Santiago, stuck between the mountains, the desert and the sea, lies the tiny town where the Arsenal forward was born. “Tocopilla is like Vina del Mar, only smaller,” he once said on the TV show Nacidos para Ganar [Born To Win]. The city is full of pollution, dirt, poverty and a high rate of drug related antisocial activities, making it one of the arid places of the world. No doubt the locals refer it as “La esquina de Diablo” or The Devil’s Corner. It’s mainly a mining port of Chile but the life standard of the locals are very poor. That’s where the real Alexis made his first steps, that’s where the dream of becoming a footballer blossomed in his tiny but dauntless heart.
A Financial barricade where earning money wasn’t easy:
Just as Alexis was born, his father left his family. Alexis’ mother was in deep trouble with his brother Humberto and two sisters. So little Sanchez grew up fast, at least his circumstances made him to do so and he had to help his mother in the households.
His mother would go to nearby city to sell fishes while Alexis had to wash cars that was parked in the cemetery, either he washed them or make sure nobody steal them.
“It wasn’t easy to get money,” he told Spanish newspaper El Pais in 2013. “I’d say to my mom, “Don’t worry, I’ll be a footballer and everything will work out – we’ll have money”, and she would laugh. I would promise gifts, cars and houses to my friends, too.
When little Alexis was in school, he sometimes saw his mother sweeping at the school and he used to hide from there as nobody can see the pain in his eyes. That struggle, determination and unassailable willpower has made him what he is today. Each and every step in his life has collided with poverty, he didn’t have even boots to play for, his mom used to borrow boots for him on the match days.
The junior Maestro:
Despite all these, little Alexis had a respite from all these crisis when he played football. In the streets of Tocopilla, he used to play with bare foot and that was where a star was in making. He earned a nickname as well, ‘Dilla’, short form of Ardilla or Squirrel, because of his rapid pace, play with bare foot and his ability to climb roofs to recover lost balls. He was something different, even his first coach Juan Segovia agrees so. Playing barefoot gave him the style, running with little jumps as he was dodging rocks in his Tocopilla days. He joined Arauco FC as a 6 year old and started playing for them.
His amazing talent was not left unnoticed as many clubs across Chile was interested to sign the young sensation. Like most of his predecessors, Sanchez was so attached to his hometown that he refused to leave permanently when the first offer to move appeared, at 13, to play in Rancagua – 750 miles from home. But the youngster’s talent would open more doors and things were different when he drew the interest of Cobreloa, mainly as they were just 75 miles away in the Atacama desert.
Attracting the attentions:
Some outstanding displays with Tocopilla attracted an interest from Italian side Udinese, who bought him and then loaned him back in Chile with the Chilean giants Colo-Colo.
17 year old Alexis started his new life in Santiago, the capital of his country. He had some outstanding performances and a subsequent loan move to River Plate saw him win his first league medal, the 2008 Argentine Primera Division Clausura title.
Udinese, Barcelona and Arsenal:
He went back to his parent club Udinese and played an important role for the next 3 seasons, scoring 21 times for them.
In 2011, Alexis joined Barcelona. He played 3 season with the Spanish giants and scored 47 goals for them.
In 2014 after a magnificent display in the World Cup, Alexis joined Arsenal. So far he has been an integral player of Arsenal and scored 50 goals for the Gunners.
He has also won two back to back Copa America title with Chile, while in the last one he was the best player of the tournament.
Sanchez may have hit the peaks of his life but Tocopilla is still well and warm in his heart. He loves to go back to his birth place and enjoys with the kids there, gives them gifts and plays football with them.
“I was happy as a boy,” he admitted. “We were humble, hell yes, but I’d give away everything I have now to be back in those days again. I was the happiest kid in the world. That’s why I so enjoy coming back. There’s my family, my friends and my memories. And I like the sea. It’s the thing I like the most. If there’s the sea, then I’m happy.”– yes, that’s why Alexis is different. He remembers his root and he respects from where he belong. He remembers his root and makes sure no one suffers what he suffered as a child.
He still is a Tocopilla boy in heart who has conquered all. The sacrifice, fight he had to make is worthy of a hundred bows. Coming from a poor background it was difficult, but he has done it all. The street boy still reflects vividly in his game, who still works as hard as he used to do as a kid, that’s why he is El Nino Maravilla(The Marvelous Boy), rightly so.
Photo by Gobierno de Chile