Welcome to My Favourite… League. This is the new series where you find out someone’s favourite league and why they love it. Up first is Eion Smith whose heart is in South America…
The average football fan does not know of the world of football outside of Europe. It’s a world of Champions League and oligarchs, Premier League and Financial Fair Play. For many, the footballing world starts and ends with Marco Reus. They revel at Messi and Ronaldo while repeating the same jokes about Fernando Torres and Arsenal. Those are all sad facts. There is so much quality football all over the world being played by some fine players that they will never ever hear or know of. Worst of all, they will never know, experience nor fall in love with my favourite league – Chile’s Campeonato Petrobras.
I know that many will turn their noses up at my choice but hear me out on this one. Chile offers something that European football has been missing for a while now – excitement. European football is all about big money imports, false nines and transitional phases which is fine if the football wasn’t so samey. I’ve tried watching Spanish football but have never enjoyed it. It’s probably a horrible thing to say but I often find my attention being lost while watching Liverpool games – and I support them! Chilean football has me hooked right from the opening whistle. It’s fast, furious and exciting. 0-0 draws in Chile are often chance laden where goalkeepers save everything. Teams will throw everything forward to win a game. Defending goes out of the window. It is one of those leagues that is exciting from beginning to end.
Saying that the Campeonato Petrobras is only exciting for its fast and furious games does it a real disservice in terms of quality. The majority of teams in the league play a style derived from the one Marcelo Bielsa implemented nationwide when he was in charge of the national team. They get the ball down and pass it quickly and if they lose it, hassle the opponents until they get it back. This is why the games are fast and furious as well as good to watch. Players are technically excellent and inventive, often making runs and passes that didn’t seem possible. Many fans marvel at the tiki taka of Barcelona and Spain regularly which is fine but it’s a bit slow and a bit dull most of the time. In the Petrobras, it’s tiki taka on speed. And that’s just better.
Many football fans love to talk tactics. They get a little too excited over number tens, the benefits of three at the back and space between the lines. They would love the Campeonato Petrobras. Every team has a unique system. Players are often flexible, constantly moving in and out of different positions. Defenders often swap positions with midfielders and attackers move across the line at different points. It is a tactics geek’s paradise. It also makes watching that bit more interesting as you may often see things that you haven’t seen before tactically. So, not only is it exciting to watch but you can broaden your horizons watching it.
You’ll often hear people say that anyone can beat anyone in a league but that very often is misleading. That’s not the case in Chile where anyone truly can beat anyone. Take the opening day of this years Apertura. Rangers (not a great team) went to Universidad de Chile and got a smash and grab 1-0 win. This is the sort of thing that happens regularly. Smaller clubs will win at big teams while big teams will struggle in the league. Colo Colo – who have the most league titles in Chile – are currently 12th in the Apertura standings. Huachipato – a small club in the port city of Talcahuano – won the title in 2012 beating out the likes of Colo Colo. It truly is an open league. As it stands, only five points separate the top nine teams. That’s half of the league! And there are still seven games to go. This is all for the title as well. This is why the Petrobras is the best.
There are some issues, obviously. The main one being the time difference which often means games are played around midnight which is inconvenient for many. Also, it’s not broadcast on TV but betting websites like William Hill provide streaming for it. Then there is the giant issue of the diving, shoddy referees and general dissent. This is a thing that occurs quite regularly in Chile. Referees often send people off for very little while the players crowd around him. Add in the constant play acting and it might sour people on the league.
The negatives should not scare you away because then you would be missing out on the best league in the world. The Campeonato Petrobras is unique enough to be cool. It’s exciting enough to keep you up past 2 in the morning watching it. It’s good enough to make you question European football. Its passion and soul will make you fall in love with football again. It certainly did that for me. And that is why I love it.