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Mauricio Isla – Udinese’s second Chilean

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By David Swan

Thursday 07 April 2011

Ask Serie A fans to name a Chilean player at Udinese, the vast majority would say Alexis Sánchez. The No.7 is having a tremendous season and has been one of the stand-out players in Italy. But he is not the only Chilean at the club, and while Sánchez has been grabbing all the headlines, the unsung talent that is Mauricio Isla has been quietly getting on with his work and is also enjoying a splendid personal campaign.

For a player who is only 22 years old, he seems to have been around for years. He made his debut for the club in 2007 when he was 19 and started his career playing in a position similar to the one he currently occupies. In Pasquale Marino’s 3-4-3 system, he took up the right-midfield slot, which essentially required the individual to behave as a wing-back, where he plays now.

Yet, due to his versatility, he has not always played in his current role, and in the early part of his career it looked like he was an example of one of those footballers whose versatility hindered them. He could be found on numerous occasions playing at right-back, as one of the wide forwards, and even in a central midfield role where he was asked to drive forward. It has only been during this season, under Francesco Guidolin, that Isla has been consistently deployed in that wing-back position, and he is now starting to reap the benefits.

Watching the player now, and with the advantage of hindsight, it appears as if the constant switching in his position has actually aided his development, rather than stifled it. His ability when going forward to effectively find space across the width of the pitch, as opposed to motoring down the flank in one direction each time, is one of his greatest assets, the development of which has come about thanks to the time he spent in central midfield and as a winger. His one and only goal this season (against Sampdoria) highlights just how well he can find gaps when coming in off his flank.

Naturally, he has the physical attributes required for a wing-back – pace to burn, which he uses very well when recovering position, and energy levels to ensure he can provide attacking support throughout the 90 minutes. His final ball, however, can be somewhat wayward, which is surprising for someone who has spent time when young in advanced positions with an expectation to be an attacking force. It is something the player appears to recognise too – more often than not his use of the ball in forward areas will be short, instead of a cross into the penalty area. It is bringing him plenty of success right now, but an improved delivery into the box will only add another string to his bow.

Despite the distinct lack of quality full-backs in Italy, there does not appear to be a great deal of interest in Isla. His defensive qualities have improved immensely from when he last played as a pure full-back, yet all the attention is on his fellow Chilean. This could work in his favour if Udinese qualify for the Champions League, as he would remain at a club where he is first choice and play against a higher standard of opposition on a more regular basis. Success there could see Udinese making a huge profit on another young Chilean in the near future.

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