In one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Santiago, Yvo and his friends lace up their boots and throw on their Rodelindo Roman club jerseys in the hope of emulating the path to stardom of Chile’s Arturo Vidal.

Twenty years ago, it was Vidal emerging from a pitchside hut at this modest club in the San Joaquin district of the Chilean capital, allowing him to briefly forget the cold and hunger.

For Vidal, who started out with nothing, those days came well before his glittering career took off and propelled him into a star with both Chile and Bayern Munich.

Now aged 30, Arturo is “a model and a source of inspiration, I would like to be like him,” Yvo Aliaga told AFP, following his team’s victory over another local side.

That same admiration prompts numerous youngsters to join the club and follow in their idol’s footsteps, with Vidal’s combative playing style and mohawk haircut symbols of the golden generation of Chile’s La Roja.

Vidal is fresh off a second Bundesliga title with Bayern and has helped Chile to a pair of Copa America triumphs — the first in their history — over the past two years.

“To Rodelindo, the club I love and which saw me grow up,” is the phrase affixed to a picture of a young Vidal in a Colo Colo shirt that welcomes visitors to the club’s headquarters.

Arturo “is our king”, claims long-time local resident Maria Teresa Lizama.

He still keeps close tabs on events back home, working with the club and always ready to come to the aid of a stricken neighbour, say those in Rodelindo, who brave the elements and swirling clouds of dust to support their team each weekend.

Vidal is held in great esteem and showered with affection by those close to him despite his well-documented struggles with indiscipline. No-one wants to flag up incidents such as the time he drunkenly crashed his Ferrari during the 2015 Copa America in his homeland.

– ‘Earth eater’ –

His family, not unused to run-ins with the law and troubled by their father’s battles with alcohol, found themselves back in the headlines in April following the tragic death of Arturo’s brother-in-law, shot dead just outside their neighbourhood.

The circumstances of his demise remain blurry but the intense media scrutiny that followed irritated those who support their local hero through thick and thin.

Everyone speaks of Arturo’s mother, Jacqueline Pardo, as a “great pillar” that carried the family forward through poverty in a house “where the wind blew in from everywhere”, recounts Arturo Olea, a former coach at Rodelindo.

Olea, wearing a Bayern top, proudly displays his photo collection of Vidal and emotionally recalls the young Arturo, whom they called the “earth eater”.

“He fell and he played, we beat him up and he stopped…(but) being hurt or injured, he didn’t care,” said Olea.

Vidal still displays those warrior-like qualities, issuing a rallying cry to his Bayern teammates ahead of this year’s Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid.

“If you need to barricade it with your head, with whatever it takes to win, then it must be done,” he said, although Bayern were eventually defeated after extra time in the second leg.

“The confidence he has as a player has led him to play a big role on the pitch, he’s already a leader,” said Ivan Valenzuela, a former academy teammate of Vidal at Colo Colo.

Outside of football, Vidal has a strong passion for horses. He owns around 30 and is a regular guest at the riding club in Santiago.

“It excites him to come here, no doubt less than when he plays football because that’s his life, but here he’s excited in a relaxed way,” said journalist Juan Antonio Torres, who interviewed him while he was just a prospect at Colo Colo. – Agence France-Presse

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