The Monday Profile: Gonzalo Jara
“Chile defender Gonzalo Jara will be familiar to fans of West Bromwich Albion, after helping them win promotion to the Premier League last season.”
It’s a home banker for your World Cup bingo cards tonight, when La Roja face Brazil in the round of 16.
Commentators panicking about researching players based at ‘unknown’ clubs like Udinese heave a sigh of relief when they spot an English team on the squad sheet, and after a quick glance at said team’s position in the league table last term, settle for a throwaway generalisation before moving on to talk about stars from the Champions League.
So get your pencils ready.
But if the commentators did fancy doing a bit more research, they would find plenty of glowing references from Albion fans about Jara’s performances last season, after his move to the Hawthorns from Colo Colo for £1.4m in August.
Assured performances at full back, centre back, and centre midfield made the 24-year-old comfortably Albion’s best signing of 2009/10.
The much-criticised scouting structure at the Hawthorns, headed by director of football Dan Ashworth, appeared to have unearthed a real gem. And a versatile one at that.
Jara debuted for Albion at left back in a 0-2 League Cup defeat at the Emirates Stadium in September 2009. Over the next couple of months, he would also fill in at right back, centre back, and as a holding midfield player.
At the Walkers Stadium on 7 November, he showed another dimension to his game with a superb strike from 25 yards in a 2-0 win against promotion rivals Leicester.
Only a broken metatarsal deprived the Chilean of what would surely have been a conspicuous role in Albion’s ultimately successful promotion run-in.
But being known as a jack-of-all-trades is not, of course, always a good thing for a young player. And Jara has let it be known that he sees his future with Albion at right back.
This makes sense. At 1.78m, it’s questionable if he is tall enough to be a successful centre half. But with a ferocious tackle, good awareness, and plenty of pace, there are few worries about his capability at right back. Which, conveniently, is a position Albion urgently need to fill.
For Chile, Jara has been playing in a back three, in a 3-3-1-3 formation.
He has collected 38 caps for this country, captained the U23 team at the 2008 Toulon Tournament, and scored a crucial goal against Colombia in a World Cup qualifier.
In South Africa, despite playing behind one of the most cavalier teams in the tournament, Jara has rarely looked exposed, even with his team down to 10 men against European Champions Spain.
After the group stages, he was, according to the FIFA World Cup Castrol Index, the fifth best player in the tournament.
Albion fans will be hoping he continues that form next season in the Premier League. But tonight will be the biggest test of his career to date.