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The English striker adored in Chile

The English striker adored in Chile

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Ben Brereton has had a year like no other. Born in Stoke-on-Trent and having played at England youth level, how did he become a cult hero this summer in Chile?


Transcript

Hi, I’m Andrew and this is the Playmaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world of football.

Today, just how did a striker born on Stoke-on-Trent become the face of Pepsi in Chile?

***

Let me take you back, if I may, to a few seasons ago. A WhatsApp group consisting of Nottingham Forest fans are exchanging messages about a striker making his breakthrough season.

“He’s a class above,” says one.

The player they’re talking about is Ben Brereton. Or should I call him Ben Brereton Diaz? I’ll come onto that.

“It is Ben Brereton, taking on responsibility and scoring! Giving Forests breathing space… Nottingham Forest 3, Arsenal 1. Brereton deserves that goal he’s been superb”

The Emirates FA Cup footage, 2018

That was three years ago, and a 19-year-old Ben Brereton had come through Nottingham Forest’s academy, to the first team, and was enjoying himself. 

Having been born in Stoke-on-Trent, Brereton spent seven years in Manchester United’s youth setup. But after being released by United as a teenager, he returned to his hometown club of Stoke City. 

Another blow was to come when he turned 16, when Stoke decided not to offer him a professional contract. 

“After I got released a couple of times, I questioned whether football was for me or not,” Brereton said in a recent interview.

But after deciding to give it one more try, Forest picked him up, and soon he was flying. 

As a promising youngster, over the course of two seasons his form at Forest saw him called up to the England Under-19 and Under-20 squads, and earned him a move to Blackburn Rovers in the summer of 2018. And it was Blackburn, or rather, a Blackburn season ticket holder, that changed the course of his playing days forever. 

“When I first came to Blackburn, I told all the lads like, I’m half-Chilean, and they was like, nah, get off, like, no-one believed me. The club used to do a thing in the programme called ‘A-Z’. They asked me something unusual about me, and I said my Mum’s from Chile…”

Ben Brereton on BBC Football Focus

That’s Brereton himself – and on that day the programme came out, at the stadium was season ticket holder Mark Hitchin, a teacher but also a researcher for the hugely popular Football Manager game.

And when it came to doing his update for the next edition of Football Manager, he included Chile as a ‘second nationality’ for Ben Brereton.

But that was just the beginning. A group of Chilean Football Manager enthusiasts saw Brereton had Chilean heritage, and that he was playing at a reasonable level – and soon, a social media movement was born. 

Chilean football fans started leaving comments on his Instagram, posted Chile flags below his photos, and the hashtag #BreretonALaRoja – Brereton For The Reds – was born. 

The movement became so popular, and so vocal, that soon the Chilean football association scouted out the possibilities of calling him up.

And in May this year, Chile manager Martin Lasarte selected him for their World Cup qualifiers against Argentina and Bolivia.

There was one more hurdle to jump however. To fly to Chile during the Coronavirus pandemic, Brereton needed a Chilean passport. And because this story is already bizarre enough in and of itself, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that a friend, Ben Corbyn – yes, the son of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose Mum is Chilean, had contacts in the Chilean embassy in London, to fast-track the process.

Brereton played for Chile against Argentina and Bolivia. And he played well. So well that he earned a call-up to Chile’s squad in the Copa America this summer, where the name Ben Brereton was everywhere. Or rather the name Ben Brereton Diaz was everywhere, as he now adds his mother’s name to his shirt when he played for Chile.

[Clip: Commentary from Brereton’s goal vs Bolivia]

Brereton Diaz scored in his first start, against Bolivia in the Copa America. The Brereton Diaz hype suddenly became real. His Instagram following grew from 70,000 followers at the start of the tournament, to almost 900,000 by the end. 

And that spotlight, Brereton Diaz’s moment in the sun, led to one of the more surreal moments in football of recent times.

“Brereton? Diaz! Un chacarero con Pepsi please”

Pepsi advert

What you’re listening to there is Ben Brereton Diaz starring in a Chilean Pepsi advert – because that’s how his summer ended. He’s now the face of Pepsi in Chile…

Football occasionally has a habit of turning players’ lives upside down in the blink of an eye – but not many can say they’ve had a year quite like Ben Brereton Diaz. 

Today’s episode was written by Andrew Butler and produced by Klong.