Arrived at Udinese at 18 and seeks rebirth at Valdivia: 'I didn't take advantage of being in the top flight'

“Europe is where the player grows up and I didn’t take advantage of that place,” says Xabier Santos (25), who at some point in his career reached elite football. Today, the left pointer details what his journey has been, where he records steps for seven clubs, including three from the Old Continent.

Raised at Ovalle and trained at Kiko Rojas academy, the striker started out in a Salamanca side and scored 30 goals as a child. “Going to play at La Pampilla when I was 13 and with a full stadium, it was incredible, you felt all the pressure,” he recalls.

– After your career in amateur football, you went to Universidad Católica when you were only 13 years old, how was your time at UC?

– The first time I arrived in San Carlos, it was like I was in a dream. There has never been such a beautiful complex, and of course the change from playing on clay courts to arriving at UC has been a game changer, both playing and personally. It’s a club that works in an extraordinary way and today that I’m older I value it more. They want to create good players, but first good people and it doesn’t show much. Today, football is just a business and that’s why they make a difference.

– At 18, you participated as a sparring partner with Jorge Sampaoli in the 2015 Copa América. What do you remember from this experience?

– For me, going to the national team is the best as a player, it’s a unique feeling and somehow living this Copa América championship was incredible. I trained daily with the best players in Chile, who broke it in Europe, and the truth is that every minute was an incredible experience. I remember very well when we went to London with the senior national team and they played against Brazil at the Emirates Stadium. Watching them train was a pleasure, they were also good people. Alexis even gave us his Arsenal shirt, it was amazing.

– In 2015 you left Católica and your arrival in Italian football, why didn’t you continue at UC and how did you come to Udinese?

– In 2015 I had a very exceptional year at the academy of Católica, I came out as the tournament’s top scorer and in that time Católica always hinted at me about the contract, but it was never really something concrete. Udinese was following me a year ago and on the day of my 18th birthday the offer came to me, it was hard to resist at the time and for me, as I come from a small town, the fact that the team that bought Alexis Sánchez came to pick you up was totally amazing. I didn’t hesitate and left.

– What did you find at Udinese, what surprised you and why did you leave the club so quickly?

– First of all the facilities, the way the players ate, the exercise routines they had before training, it was amazing because there were several Chileans in this team and we were all physically sick. Europe is where the player grows up and I didn’t take advantage of that place.

– What was missing?

– It is clear that maturity, bad decisions, bad encounters, money and my impressionability led me not to live like a professional player and to miss this great opportunity.

– Later he had two stints in Spain in Granada and Extremadura. How was this stage?

– Grenada was the same. Although it’s a small club for Spain, it has better facilities than any team in Chile and I really liked the country. The first year of adaptation was good, I scored 7 goals and I was excelling and even training with the first team, but I couldn’t continue because my body wasn’t giving me more and I I did nothing to change that. That’s where the injuries came and then it was difficult. Then, in Extremadura, it was a short and intense stage, because I went to a team that was last by seven points and it was difficult to maintain the category, but we did it. I had to play and I enjoyed it, it was very different from being in Granada B, because here you played for a whole city. In general, I have not taken advantage of being in the football elite for many reasons, but the Chilean player who has the opportunity to go there must work, because it is no coincidence that Arturo Vidal won it all. He went to Europe for that.


– Do you recommend young footballers to go to Europe?

– If they make the decision to go, it’s not just for something money, there are more important things than that, I would tell them to go with a purpose. Money is a consequence of everyone’s work, first it’s football and then the rest, the player has time for everything. There are two types of young people: some who are prepared like Francisco Sierralta and others like me who are not. He was my captain and he was an impeccable guy, the career he had was no accident.

– In 2018, he returned to Chile. With the trajectory you had, why didn’t you find a First Club?

– I made very bad decisions, I had just left the representatives who brought me the offer from Udinese and I rushed everything. I could have waited, but I took the first thing that came out. I was even able to make it to the U, had a few conversations and it didn’t come out.

– At some point on your return to Chile, when you went through Ñublense and Ovalle, were you disappointed with football?

– In Ñublense, it was my debacle as a player, that’s where everything started badly for me. Going through this club marked me, because I had a bad time and I suffered a lot. There were days when he didn’t want to go to training anymore, he was psychologically very bad and that’s a problem that happens to a lot of players and affects them too much. Then I went to Ovalle because I met my wife and I wanted to be close to her and reconnect with football. Today together we follow God and from that moment everything has changed, today is my second year in Valdivia and I have found my home, I feel loved and I have returned to my level . Today my life is totally different from before and I live for God, my wife and my children, I devote myself only to football, far from any social network. It makes me happy that teams from higher divisions ask about me, it shows that I am doing something good, so I will dream again in Chilean football.

– Do you think it will further boost your career?

– I certainly think so. I was lucky enough to meet Professor (Luis) Marcoleta and he gave me everything I needed to be reborn. My immediate goal is to move up the category at the end of the year and then my dream is to reach the Chilean national team. I will get there if God accompanies me.


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