As Marcelo Gallardo squared up to Boca Junior’s Gary Medel, he knew that he could entice a reaction from the man they call The Pitbull. He tries once, but doesn’t get a reaction. When he tries again, Medel bites back with finger in Gallardo’s face. When the now River Plate manager tries a third time, Boca’s number 8 snaps back with a shove to his opponent’s face and tempers flare.
Fast-forward a year and the Pitbull, now with Sevilla, is at it again. As Xavi, who Medel had targeted all game in a clash against Barcelona, leaves a little bit in on the Chilean during a tackle, Medel snaps. He squares up to Xaxi, pushes Bojan away and is pulled away by his team-mates.
Gary Medel is a hot-headed player, he reacts to incidents and often gets himself into trouble as a result. There's a side to Gary Medel that many ignore, though. If you carry on watching the Barcelona v Sevilla clip, what it shows is a tenacious midfielder who chases the ball tirelessly for his team. Few work harder than Gary Medel, and it is that that often goes unnoticed amongst football fans.
Born in Santiago, the capital and largest city in Chile, Medel was raised in the undeserved barrio of La Palmilla. At the age of 17, Medel became a father to twins - Gary and Alejandro – and, as a result, set about making a career of football to support his young family. "If I had not been a footballer, today I'd be a 'narcotraficante' [drug dealer]" he told ESPN in 2014, highlighting the tough upbringing he had.
Medel claims that he will always be a barrio boy - his playing style is testament to that. Whilst playing for local club Club Sabino Aguad, Medel was both assaulted and had guns drawn on him.
His ferocious playing style earned him plaudits across Chile, with the U20 manager Jorge Sulantay impressed, describing Medel as a "brave little boy" who never stopped running. The same can be said of Medel today and throughout his career.
What is often overlooked, however, is Medel’s technical ability. Sulantay was ready to overlook Medel for the youth side but changed his mind when his assistant came back from a second scouting mission impressed by his passing range.
Medel’s persistence and passion for succeeding in football for the sake of his twins proved fruitful when, in 2009, he got his move to Boca Juniors and the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires.Initially a loan deal for $300,000 USD, Boca had the option to buy Medel for $2.5million. It was all Medel could’ve hoped for, as he looked forward to playing with some of his idols. "This is a dream come true. It is a very important club and one which has players which I admire a lot, Juan Román Riquelme, Martín Palermo and Sebastián Battaglia. He is my idol and has me very happy to play by his side".
At Boca, Medel matured and took responsibility in the centre of the pitch. Never one to shy out of a battle, Medel set the tempo for his team-mates, ensuring that they played on the front foot and took the game to the opposition.
The Chilean made an instant impact in the Argentine capital. In March 2010, Medel put in possibly one of the greatest performances in Superclásico history when he scored both goals in a 2-0 Boca win. Media outlet Ole described Medel’s performance at the time:
“The Chilean broke it. He played on the right, he was everywhere, got in and got it. Full. Something they [Chileans] have. In the blood, in the skin, in the viscera, in the soul. Something that distinguishes them, that produces that that surges in the decisive moments when others shake the cords. The performance of Gary Medel in the 2-0 of Boca to River caused a sensation of the other side of the Mountain range.”
Few games have summed up Medel’s career like the match in 2010. Medel, who is often underestimated with a ball at his feet, scored the game’s opening goal and charged towards the Boca fans, leaping onto the towering pitch-side fence and chanted "Vamo'! Vamo'!" towards his adoring fans as he clings onto the fence.
In true Medel style, he went about single-handedly destroying any River opportunity. He raced around the pitch, sniffing out any chance to win the ball.
The Chilean made it 2-0 to Boca when he smashed a dummied pull-back into the top right-hand corner of the River goal.
The Boca number 8 would later be shown a red card – his second yellow – on 75 minutes when he was penalised for a rash lunge on a River player. The hero turned villain. Meet Gary Medel.
The Superclásico in Buenos Aires, a city with at least 10 football teams competing, stands above all others.
In the capital, football stands still when the two giants of Boca Juniors and River Plate clash in the Superclásico. Families are divided, streets are split and friends become the biggest of enemies.
For those involved, the match is far more than a game of football. The rivalry stems from the working class dockland area of Buenos Aires, La Boca. Both clubs were founded here (River 1901, Boca 1905) but when River moved to the upper-class district of Núñez in 1925, the rivalry intensified. Boca is the club for the working class – Xeneizes – whilst the River Plate fans gained the nickname Los Millonarios.
Like many rivalries across the World, the heated exchanges between fans are at the centre-point of the Superclásico. The BBC described the derby as "a sea of colourful flowing banners, screams and roars, chanting, dancing and never-ending fireworks”.
Few players have embraced that spirit like Gary Medel – a player who has shown passion and fire wherever he has played.
He would prove a success in Seville, where he would partner Ivan Rakitić in central midfield. He continued his tenacious approach, earning plaudits for his passion, despite earning 7 seven red cards during his career in Spain.
Medel would then move to Cardiff City, where he would face a tough season with the Premier League new boys. Whilst Medel was often a bright-spark, including a man of the match display in a historic win against Manchester City, he could not save the club from turmoil and, eventually, relegation.
An impressive World Cup with Chile, where Medel starred at centre-back in a back 3, would earn him a move to Inter Milan. He remains in Milan today, where he has struggled to find form at times for the I Nerazzurri. Controversy has not evaded Medel, despite maturing in age. In October 2016, Medel was banned for three matches after hitting Atalanta’s Jasmin Kurtić.
Whilst Gary Medel has proved a success in Europe, his tenacious style of play made him the perfect Buenos Aires footballer. Nicknamed The Pitbull, he earned himself the adoration of Boca Juniors fans during his two years with the club.
His display in the 2010 Superclásico will go down in history. Medel, with his passion, determination and, sadly, his temperament will forever be remembered in Buenos Aires. With reports linking the 28-year-old with a return to Xeneizes this summer, the Pitbull and Buenos Aires could be reunited sooner rather than later.
In Bed With Maradona Editor-in-Chief