Colombia coach Álvarez compares Chara's style to his own
BOGOTÁ, D.C.- Back when he used to play, Leonel Álvarez was widely known as a hard-nosed holding midfielder who was unafraid of going into hard tackles. It was that determination of never giving up on a 50-50 challenge that won him legendary recognition in the Colombian National Team.
Now, as Los Cafeteros' head coach, the former Dallas and Revolution man asks his pupils for the same kind of compromise and hard work in order to bring Colombia back to the world stage. Colombia hasn't featured in the World Cup since 1998 and on Tuesday they started dreaming again with a well-fought 2-1 win over Bolivia in La Paz for the South-American qualifiers for Brazil 2014.
Before that game, Alvarez was asked who among his players plays similarly to the style he used to show back when he was a player, to which he didn't hesitate to point out three players, Carlos Sanchez, Diego Ferney and Portland Timbers' Designated Player, Diego Chara.
According to the legendary Colombian, who played side to side with Carlos "el Pibe" Valderrama during Colombia's golden years, the 25 year-old Timbers midfielder "is a player who fights for every ball, very experienced, with an excellent dynamic and correct decision-making when the ball is at his feet."
Chara, who played the last 20 minutes of the match against Bolivia, seemed surprised and at the same time proud with his coach's comments.
"It's an honor that the coach says that about me, but at the same time it makes me commit even more to give my all and give back to that trust," he said.
As the sole representative of MLS in the Colombian National Team, Chara also feels that he has the responsibility to show the level that's being played in the league nowadays.
"[MLS] has taught me a lot, in the field as well as in my personal life. It asks you to learn a new language so that you can perform better and that learning process has been important," Chara said. "[The league] is demanding, the technical level is very high. That's why they're a power in CONCACAF. Once you play here, you're impressed and truthfully, I'm very happy to be living this experience."
Still, Chara admitted that in Colombia, MLS doesn't get the recognition it deserves, which is another reason why he wants to impress in the national team.
"Soccer in the America has nothing to envy other continents, and I hope coaches here keep looking there because there is a lot of potential", he said.
Chara started the Bolivia game in the substitutes bench and, even though he would like to have a place in the starting XI, he assured that he's ready to play any role Alvarez wants him to.
"You work to be a starter, but it's the coach who chooses his players, but whether I play or not, I'm going to do my best to start on the right foot", Chara said. "[Playing in Bolivia] is not easy because of the altitude, but the team prepared correctly."