SANTIAGO, Chile – Jorge Sampaoli has steered Chile to the World Cup and achieved the seemingly impossible: making former coach Marcelo Bielsa's name recede in the collective public memory.
Bielsa became one of Chile's most beloved figures after helping the squad reach the second round of the 2010 World Cup. Polls ranked him as the best coach in the country's football history, and some said he should run for president. But he quit in 2011 following a dispute with Chilean football federation officials.
Claudio Borghi stepped in to replace him, but he was fired in 2012 when the team was struggling in South American qualifying. In his last news conference, Borghi conceded that filling Bielsa's shoes had proved difficult, especially with so many adoring fans mourning his absence.
Like Bielsa and Borghi, Sampaoli is Argentine. With coaching methods similar to Bielsa's, he was appointed Chile coach in December 2012. From the start, Sampaoli knew he had a huge job in front of him, and he made reference to it with his first public comments after his contract — through 2015 — was revealed.
"We are obligated to get Chile to the 2014 World Cup," Sampaoli said.
He delivered by instilling national pride in a team that had problems with player discipline, turning Chile into a powerful rival with an enviable record.
Chile finished third in South American qualifying, drew with Spain and beat England in friendlies, and lost only two of its 15 games last year. But its luck ended in the draw in December when it was grouped with world champion Spain, 2010 finalist Netherlands and Australia.
Sampaoli has coached clubs in Argentina and Peru but his most successful managerial stint was with Universidad de Chile. He won the league and the Copa Sudamericana, the No. 2 club tournament in South America.
"I think the only way to be successful is by unifying players from the amateur level up," Sampaoli said in a recent book. "You have to try to help them to find love for the shirt, to enjoy the game instead of seeing it as just a duty."
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