The Return Of El Matador
One of the most important decisions taken in this new era of Chilean football was to secure the return to the fold of Marcelo Salas, La Roja’s leading football goalscorer and a national hero. On the day he confirmed his comeback, Bielsa praised him and even went as far as to explain that, “I am an admirer of his past. I will respectfully look at his present to assess his chances with the national team.” It sounded like he was just being diplomatic, but not at all: Bielsa called Salas up at the age of 33 and considers him one of the figureheads of the team due to his influence on the group and on people in general. He is an icon in his home country and even scored two goals against Italy at the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ in France, as well as another brace against Uruguay at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo during the current qualifying campaign.
“El Matador”, who made a name for himself on the global stage (he played for Juventus and Lazio), is close to equalling Hernan Crespo as the all-time leading football goalscorer in the South American qualifiers for the World Cup™ and is a legend in his home country with 37 official goals for Chile. “To be honest I didn’t feature in the immediate plans for the national team … or the future plans,” he says with a smile. “I know that I’m always going to be in the spotlight, so it’s important for me to score goals, to contribute and show that I’m still relevant. Things come full circle in life and fortunately, I believed and continue to believe in myself. I am very critical of myself; when I am no longer capable I will step aside without them having to tell me to.” Following Bielsa’s praise for the legendary football striker, Salas returned the compliment by talking of his high standing and the expectations that he had raised. “El Matador” is happy with his present situation, but also recognises that playing at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ is not his sole objective: “I am taking part but I’m not thinking of South Africa,” he says.