From England youth glory to Chile superstar

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August 4, 2021
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    Ben Brereton has had a whirlwind summer.

    The Blackburn Rovers striker has just returned from lighting up the Copa America, becoming a national hero in a country 7,000 miles away as Chile reached the quarter-finals.

    Once top goalscorer as England Under-19s won the Euros, now he's playing against Neymar and Lionel Messi, boasts a legion of fans on social media and is the face of Pepsi in Chile.

    When playing for Chile, he uses the surname Brereton Diaz – following the Spanish language custom of using father's and mother's surname – which he is now set to do with his club as well.

    "If you'd have told me this 12 months ago, I'd have said you were crazy," he says of his international fame.

    "It's been a brilliant experience and something I'll never forget."

    'Not your stereotypical footballer'

    Benjamin Anthony Brereton was born in April 1999 in Stoke-on-Trent to a Chilean mother and English father.

    He attended Blythe Bridge High School and was on the books at Manchester United and Stoke City as a teenager.

    Alex Jackson, senior leader at the school, met him when he was nine years old.

    "He isn't a stereotypical footballer," says Jackson. "His head is screwed on and he was determined to do well.

    "His family are supportive and would have kicked him up the backside if he hadn't worked hard."

    From a family of Stoke supporters, his release from the Potters was a setback but he moved to Nottingham Forest and soon attracted the England youth set-up.

    A fixture in the Under-19 side alongside Chelsea star Mason Mount, he scored three times in their successful Euro campaign in 2017.

    His performances there and his 57 Forest appearances, including a coming-of-age display in an FA Cup victory over Arsenal in January 2018, prompted Blackburn to pay £7m for him in 2019.

    Ben Brereton celebrates scoring for Nottingham ForestBrereton (centre), then aged 18, scored a penalty and tormented the Arsenal defence in a 4-2 FA Cup victory in January 2018

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    It's not been smooth progress since – with the price tag weighing heavily and a succession of injuries limiting him to just two goals in his first two seasons at Ewood Park.

    "He wasn't given time – someone from the academy would have been treated differently," says Rich Sharpe, Blackburn correspondent for the Lancashire Telegraph.

    "When he first arrived, he was passive and didn't quite fit. He was unsure how to use his body to his advantage."

    Last season was a turning point, as Brereton made 43 appearances in all competitions, scoring seven goals.

    "Now, he uses his size to bounce off opponents and pose danger," Sharpe explains.

    Brereton Diaz 'fever' in Chile

    It didn't go unnoticed in Chile.

    Thanks to an eagle-eyed researcher's trawl through Football Manager, and a club website interview from 2019, Brereton's eligibility for Chile lit up social media last November.

    The campaign gathered momentum and, suddenly, Brereton was invited to the Copa America.

    "It was an opportunity I couldn't turn down," he admits.

    His tall frame, relentless pressing and ability to go past defenders adds a new dimension to Chile's small skilful attack.

    Chilean journalist Cecilia Lagos thinks he could be the player they have needed since Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamorano retired.

    "We've really missed a killer de área, literally a box killer," she explains. "We've been haunted by that for years.

    "Brereton Diaz is so eager, so active – he fits like a glove."

    That's despite not knowing the language, the culture or even the tourist sites.

    "I'd only been to Chile once, when I was six months old," he says. "It was nerve-wracking, but once I met the other players and the coaching staff, I settled in nicely.

    "They didn't let me sing Feliz Navidad, though, so I did Wonderwall – not sure anyone really knew what was going on!"

    Ben Brereton Diaz and NeymarBrereton says it was 'an honour' playing against Lionel Messi and Neymar and training with Alexis Sanchez

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    But what about turning his back on the England set-up?

    "For me, it was a no-brainer," he explains. "I understand the pull of England, but Chile wanted me and it's a chance to make my family proud.

    "Even my dad is buzzing – he told me to do it."

    His first Copa appearances were impressive, a lively cameo against Argentina earning a start against Bolivia, where he scored a composed winner.

    "People were recognising me and the support on social media went crazy."

    Brereton's Instagram followers rocketed from 80,000 to 800,000 during the tournament, where Chile narrowly lost in the quarter-finals to Brazil.

    "We couldn't interact with fans in person because of Covid restrictions," he explains. "But they could send gifts – I received more than 50 different boxes of chocolate."

    He's also now the face of Pepsi in a recently-released commercial – "The lads have taken the mickey out of me for that."

    One heart-warming encounter with a young Chile fan solidified his standing.

    "Pictures went round of a boy who'd made a Brereton Diaz 22 shirt out of masking tape," he says.

    "He was at the airport at the same time as us so I got the Chile media guys to send him a message and was able to give him the shirt I scored my goal in.

    "That was a special moment."

    Ben BreretonBrereton made five appearances for Chile in the Copa America, scoring once and assisting another

    "It's Brereton Diaz fever," Lagos says. "Chileans are really welcoming of foreigners, even more so if they're half Chilean.

    "They expect him to score goals though – if he doesn't, the honeymoon period will be over."

    As for Brereton's priorities, he wants an improved campaign for Blackburn, who finished 15th in the Championship last season.

    "We need to build and be more consistent," he says. "Playing in the Copa America has boosted my confidence and I feel really motivated coming back."

    And the Qatar World Cup in 2022?

    "Hopefully, I'll get called up for the qualifiers," he says. "And then we'll see what happens."

    Source

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