Alexis is from the small northern town of Tocopilla, located in a region known more for its mining industry than its football. Local lore has it that at the age of 15 he was spotted playing football in his barrio by the town mayor, who was so impressed that he gave Alexis his first pair of football cleats. Just six years later, Alexis would play a key role in Chile’s celebrated World Cup performance in South Africa.
Quick rise to fame
At 15, Alexis started playing seriously at a local football school, Cobreloa’s Soccer School. He first gained national attention in the Under-16 national team during the 2004 South American tournament, held in Paraguay, where Chile reached the quarter-finals.
His official professional debut occurred shortly thereafter when he joined the Cobreloa senior squad, during which time he made headlines when he became the youngest player in the history of the Libertadores Cup tournament.
After a successful season with Cobreloa, the team sold Sánchez to the Italian club Udinese for US$ 3 million. Before joining the Italian squad, Alexis was loaned out to two teams as part of his preparation process – first to one of Chile’s premier professional teams, Colo Colo, and subsequently to River Plate in Argentina.
During this period, Alexis notched up several important milestones, including helping Chile’s national youth squad place third at the Under-20 World Cup in Canada in 2007, one of Chile’s best finishes in years. In 2008, following a sterling season in Argentina, Alexis left South America and joined his teammates at Udinese.
After Chile’s amazing run in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, there was no stopping Alexis Sánchez: he made an unforgettable impression as a wicked offensive player who also demonstrated keen teamwork skills – a rare and valuable combination in professional football – and who created some of the most inventive offensive plays for La Roja.
After the World Cup, the sales of number “7” jerseys became the most popular in Chile, as everyone wanted a small piece of the national hero. And nothing says unequivocal stardom like a cumbia song in your honor: popular music group Tomo como Rey wrote a song titled “El Niño Maravilla,” or Wonder Kid, and the name has stuck.
Most recently, his performance with Udinese has been nothing less than extraordinary, including feats such as scoring four goals in a February 2011 match against Palermo. His talent hasn’t gone unnoticed in Italy; Sanchez was recently voted the top player in the 2011 Italian Serie A tournament by Italy’s sports press.
Interest in Alexis has grown tremendously in recent months, and FC Barcelona is currently (as of July 2011) in a dramatic courtship with Chile’s homegrown talent. Only time will tell how much higher the Wonder Kid’s star will rise.