Blackburn’s Ben Brereton Diaz has good reason to stay up past his normal bedtime on Tuesday night to watch Chile play a crunch World Cup qualifier
La Roja kick off against Ecuador at quarter past midnight in Santiago with both countries currently in the top four automatic qualifying places alongside Brazil and Argentina.
Ordinarily, Brereton Diaz would be on the pitch alongside Alexis Sanchez, Claudio Bravo and Arturo Vidal but a booking against Paraguay last week means the 22-year-old striker is suspended and has to see the game on television seven thousand miles away at home near Clitheroe.
Ben Brereton Diaz will be praying Chile can secure a World Cup spot against Ecuador tonight
The Blackburn striker has dazzled since his shock call-up but is suspended for the crunch clash
The fingernail biting could be severe. Being among the world’s best in Qatar is a dream that looked incredibly distant until he made his Chile debut in June, qualifying through his mother Andrea.
Since then, Brereton Diaz has travelled 45,000 miles to become a huge star in that part of the world, advertising a range of products from Pepsi to men’s underwear.
There are many differences between playing in the Championship and South America, but one or two similarities as well.
‘I still get “man on” shouted at me during matches,’ smiles Brereton Diaz. ‘Usually by Alexis Sanchez who remembers it from when he played at Arsenal.’
The 22-year-old has become a hit in Chile – starring in Pepsi ads and even modelling underwear
His life has been transformed since mentioning in a Rovers programme A-Z that he had a Chilean mum, the career-changing nugget appearing under letter U for Unusual Fact.
A keen-eyed employee updated his profile on video game Footballer Manager and it attracted the Chilean FA.
The deal was sealed when Brereton received a call from Chilean national football director Francisco Cagigao the night before Rovers played Preston last season. After adding his mother’s maiden name Diaz to his surname, the centre-forward has helped Chile win three successive qualifiers to put themselves firmly in the running for Qatar.
Explaining his back story, Brereton Diaz says: ‘My mum came to England when she was 14.
The striker’s life was transformed after revealing his Chilean mother in a Blackburn programme
His team-mates didn’t believe he was eligible to play for them until Chile came calling
‘My granddad was in the pottery business so he came to Stoke to do that. They all moved over, Nan and Granddad, Mum, two aunties and still live here.
‘I remember the family having Chile parties when they played in the 2014 World Cup. They still have them when I play but it can be tough because some games start at two in the morning.
‘When I moved to Blackburn (in 2019), I told the lads I was eligible to play for Chile but nobody believed me. We never contacted them but when I started scoring a few, it started floating about on Twitter and picked up pace.
‘It’s been a great experience for me. I’m playing with some brilliant team-mates and off the field, there has been some cool stuff to do.
‘The underwear campaign (with a company called Top) is interesting. I didn’t have to strip off, just show a bit under my jeans, lift the top up a little bit.’
He is Blackburn’s top goalscorer this season and has scored three for Chile – the country love having him in the squad
Brereton, who was allowed by the Chilean FA to fly back to England early because of his ban, has always been considered a talent. He was at Manchester United until 15 and ended up at Nottingham Forest before joining Blackburn for £6million.
Since arriving at Ewood Park, he has added goals to his physicality, good touch and clever movement. Having scored nine times in 57 games for Forest, his 13 Championship goals for Blackburn this season is bettered only by Aleksandr Mitrovic and he also netted for Chile in qualifiers against Paraguay and Venezuela last month.
‘It’s about growing up,’ he assesses. ‘There was a lot of pressure at Forest, when I came to Rovers they had a forward called Danny Graham who was a good finisher.
‘I learned things from him and took it into my own game. I think it’s about being in the right space at the right time.’
Chile are delighted to have him and he loves being able to connect with mother’s heritage despite the long distances involved.
Representing Chile also allows him to connect with his family heritage. His mother was moved to tears after discovering he had been called up
‘I don’t find the jet lag too bad flying out, you are up early and get to bed early,’ he says. ‘Coming back, you can find yourself awake at three in the morning but I’m able to sleep on planes and I don’t want to miss matches, for club or country.
‘Being with the England under-19s has helped me because I gained an early experience of international football. I was part of the squad with Aaron Ramsdale and Mason Mount that won the European Championship.
‘I was close to Mase, he has cracked on and is top boy with England now. He sent me his congratulations about Chile.
‘Because of our Covid bubble, I’ve not been able to meet mum’s side of the family in Chile. I invite them to the matches but so far it’s been a case of having to wave rather than going over to chat. My mum and girlfriend were planning to come to the Ecuador game before my yellow card.
Known as ‘Gringo’ – or foreigner – to his Chile team-mates, he hopes the group can realise their ‘dream’ and reach the 2022 World Cup
‘If you met my mum, you wouldn’t think she was from Chile, she has the English accent. She’s generally a laid-back person but was in tears when I got my call up. To get to a World Cup would be incredible, what a stage, it’s everyone’s dream and it’s in our hands.’
Brereton Diaz is sometimes referred to as ‘Gringo’ when he’s in Chile. It’s a literal translation of foreigner rather than the insult you’d imagine by watching film Westerns.
‘We’ve always used the term in my household anyway, it’s just a phrase for a foreign person,’ he says. ‘It’s funny really.’
He and his girlfriend take Spanish lessons three times a week and hopes to be fluent in the future.
He looks forward to visiting Chile as a normal holiday maker rather than seeing the inside of hotels and airports, believing that will accelerate his knowledge of the language. Until then, ‘man on’ will have to do the trick.