- Martin Lasarte took over as Chile coach in February
- The Uruguayan is in charge of a national team for the first time
- He discusses the World Cup qualifiers, Copa America and his team’s objectives
Just a few days shy of his 60th birthday, the Uruguayan Martin Lasarte accepted the biggest challenge of his coaching career by taking charge of the Chilean national team, who are determined to make it back to the FIFA World Cup™ after missing out on Russia 2018.
And while this is his first stint in charge of a national team, Lasarte has ample coaching experience in South American, including in Chile, where he has managed two of the country’s top three sides: Universidad Catolica and Universidad de Chile, guiding the latter to three titles.
Known as Machete for his hard-hitting tackles as a player, Lasarte was the coach who gave Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann their professional debuts at Uruguay’s Nacional and Spain’s Real Sociedad respectively. On top of that, he has coached in countries as varied as Colombia, UAE and Egypt – his last stop before taking up the Roja reins.
His first official matches will be against Argentina and Bolivia as part of the qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, where Chile currently languish outside the qualifying berths in sixth place. That campaign, as well as this year’s Copa America and the team’s objectives, were all up for discussion during an interview with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: What attracted you to the Chile role at this point in your career?
Martin Lasarte: Firstly, it’s always enticing and interesting to be offered a national team job, but there was also a sense of belonging. I worked here for almost four years and it was a very good period for me, personally and professionally. I’d been shortlisted for the position before but only this year did a concrete opportunity arise. I don’t know if it was the best or worst time for it, but I’m here now. Once you accept, there’s a lot at stake… but I’m confident we can achieve the goals we’ve set.
How have you adapted to your first international coaching role, not to mention starting it in the midst of a pandemic?
Today, like everyone else, we find ourselves in a very specific situation that requires us to be inventive, to bring out the best in ourselves, and that’s where we’re at. There is a lot of deskwork: watching recordings of matches and videos, reviewing stats, talking with players and colleagues, making plans… In that regard, I feel very good. But unquestionably you miss the day-to-day routine: going to training, welcoming and chatting to the players, seeing if the weekend games reflected the work put in during the week. You just have to adapt. Ultimately, that has been one of the hallmarks of my career, adapting to different cultures and countries. I think it’s something I do without great difficulty.
How would you assess Chile’s start to the qualifiers?
In football there’s a lot of talk about how one feels [about a game], but the table doesn’t lie. On that basis, our position is somewhat compromised. That said, I feel that Chile deserve to have more points, which would have put us into the qualifying berths. Colombia got a point against us after a very stop-start game, while Uruguay beat us thanks to a long-range strike in the last minute. Even Venezuela’s winner came late in the game, so Chile had its chances. That’s useful for establishing what lies ahead and what the team can become.
What pleased you most and least about the performances in the opening four qualifiers?
What I liked least, or what worried me most, were the late goals conceded. Closing out matches is very important, even more so at this level. What pleased me most is that there’s a foundation in place, a structure that’s been there for some time and remains valid. There are players who form the cornerstone of the team and who are at a very high level, and they will be the standard-bearers driving our desire to return to a World Cup.
Could you tell us a bit more about the squad you have at your disposal?
Of course. I feel that the team is undergoing a process of renewal, just like many national teams on the continent in recent years. Chile may have been more directly affected by this, but it has a number of players who are capable of helping us achieve our goals and delivering at the World Cup, if we qualify. Then there are others who are at the stage where they can lend a hand but for whom the World Cup is probably out of reach still.
The other part of the equation is that we must continue with something [previous coach Reinaldo] Rueda started, which is to try to regenerate – a word I prefer over ‘replace’. A regeneration implies that footballers from earlier periods coexist with the new recruits in a process that should be planned and gradual and include the transfer of experience.
In this process, how important is the change of mindset achieved by the likes of Bravo, Medel, Vidal and Sanchez?
It’s of the utmost importance. It is no coincidence that they’ve been part of Chilean football’s most significant achievements They’re players who still stand out today for their sporting qualities, but also for their ability to motivate. That’s what I mean when I talk about the transfer of experience: it’s vital to have players with the ability to pass knowledge on, and Chile has them.