With the likes of Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez at the top of their game and the national team back to its high-tempo best under Jorge Sampaoli, it’s fair to say that Chilean football is in rude health right now. Aside from being considered by many as dark horses for the World Cup, a promising batch of youngsters is emerging and chief among them is powerful 20-year-old striker Nicolas Castillo. Belgian giants Club Brugge moved quickly to secure his signature in a €3million deal this January and the Jupiter Pro League should provide the perfect platform for Castillo as he makes his formative first steps in European football.
Who is Nicolas Castillo?
Hailing from the working class community of Renca on the outskirts of Santiago, Castillo joined boyhood club Universidad Catolica at the age of 12. When he wasn’t training at the Estadio San Carlos de Apoquindo, he was on the terraces and even formed part of the ‘la de Renca’ barrabrava. This close affiliation with the club immediately endeared him to the ardent Cruzados supporters.
Castillo progressed through the various youth divisions and began to attract attention when, in 2010, he captained the title winning U-17s and was awarded the prize of Catolica’s best youth player of the year by the club. 2010 was also the year that marked his competitive debut with the first team, in which Castillo came off the bench to score against San Pedro de Atacama in the Copa Chile Bicentenario.
The following year Castillo grabbed headlines after he scored a brace against rivals Colo Colo in Copa Chile – Universidad Catolica would go on to win the competition – and he made a handful of league appearances. However, he wasn’t able to tie down a regular spot and returned to the youth divisions, a frustrating setback for the youngster but one that would go on to help him grow as a player. He impressed at international level though, finishing the Copa UC Sub-17 as top scorer with seven goals.
2012 would prove to be Castillo’s breakthrough into the first team. He scored his first league goal, a header against Rangers de Talca, during the Apertura and went on to hit the back of the net another seven times during the year, while also netting two more in the Copa Chile. Castillo also got his first taste of continental football, appearing briefly in the Libertadores and then six times in the Sudamericana. Two goals in the latter took his tally to 12 for the year and saw him named Best Youngster in the Sudamericana.
If 2012 was his breakthrough, then 2013 cemented his reputation – both domestically and internationally – as one of the most exciting prospects in Chile. The year began in spectacular style as Castillo notched five goals in seven games for Chile U-20s in the Sudamericano, helping la Rojita to qualify for the World Cup in Egypt later that year. Here a video compilation of Castillo’s performance in the U-20 Sudamericano.
Another nine league goals, two in the Copa Chile and three more in the Sudamericana represented a decent return as Castillo became an increasingly important member of the squad. Internationally he continued to shine, with four goals in four games at the U-20 World Cup as Chile reached the quarter-finals. Here is a compilation video of Castillo at the U-20 World Cup. He also made his senior team debut, coming on as a substitute in the qualifier against Peru.
His performances had not gone unnoticed and a number of clubs – including the likes of Manchester United and Fiorentina – were reportedly interested. Castillo came close to joining Hannover before Club Brugge eventually swooped, landing the starlet for a mere €3million on a 4 ½ year deal. A goal on his debut against Genk was the perfect start to life in Belgium and the Blauw-Zwart faithful will hope that it is the first of many to come.
Castillo leaves his beloved Universidad Catolica having scored 29 goals in 80 games – a decent ratio for a player who only turned 21 this month.
Style, Strengths & Weaknesses
Nicolas Castillo is a powerful striker with great technique, movement and heading ability and has been dubbed the ‘Chilean Zlatan’ by Western media. Such comparisons are usually made when there’s a lack of knowledge of the players’ style. This Scout Report will serve the purpose of educating readers on Castillo’s style and ability.
While not an entirely accurate comparison, there are certainly some similarities in terms of demeanor and his capacity to produce something special. One of his main strengths is his aerial presence. Despite a lack of height at 5’9”, Castillo is a fine header of the ball, whether it be powerful bullets, deft flicks or well-placed efforts. Combined with his strength and fine timing, he is able to lead the line well as a lone striker if needed and is also adept at holding the ball up and bringing others into play.
A very robust and physical frontman, he is a real fighter and not afraid to mix it with the big boys. Something that has always struck me is his swagger which oozes confidence – perhaps verging on arrogance on occasions – but nonetheless denotes a cocksure forward who trusts his ability. His tendency to rile opponents and unsettle defences is a double edged sword as it can force errors and bully defenders but similarly his confrontational approach can sometimes get him into hot water. His temperament and discipline will have to be one area of his game that he works on, especially against experienced centre-backs, but if harnessed correctly, it can be a massive asset.
Far from being all brawn and no brain, Castillo is technically gifted and is more than able to produce moments of sublime skill. Good pace, close control and decent range of shooting make him a handful for any defender. He has also proven to be somewhat of free-kick specialist.
Castillo is now reaching a key moment in his development. He has all the hallmarks of a top modern striker but now faces the challenge of moving abroad for the first time in his career. For someone who has been both player and fan of Universidad Catolica since a young age, it will be a real test to see whether he can successfully adapt to life in Belgium and Europe. However, if he can achieve this and continue to improve his goals to game ratio there is no doubt he can be a huge hit. With a massive potential re-sale value, it looks to be a good move for both parties.
Along with Ángelo Henríquez, he is Chile’s most promising striking talent. He is physically developed, making him a powerful striker who is capable of playing as a lone striker or in a front two.
He can be impulsive and opinionated which can land him in trouble off the pitch, while on it he can often be found in disputes with opposition centre backs and getting frustrated with the referee if he isn’t getting free-kicks as he does have a tendency to go down easily, despite his frame.
However, the good outweighs the bad. Even with the aforementioned, he is an intelligent player. He led the line for Universidad Católica as they reached the semi-finals of the Copa Sudamericana in 2012. He’d provide opposing centre backs with a real problem running in behind, holding the ball up or picking the ball up from deep and running at them.
He is confident in his ability, often looking to take early shots. A tenuous comparison would perhaps be Mario Balotelli.
The one technical aspect of the game he needs to work on is his link-up play. He can have what I call the “Eden Dzeko” about him at times where he can appear cumbersome and let the ball bounce off him.
If he can channel his enthusiasm and confidence there is a very good striker there who can score goals and contribute to the team.
— Joel Sked (@sked21 on twitter), Co-Founder of lonestarchile.wordpress.com
For more detailed Scout Reports on the top young talents in the World of football, head this way. Check out his SoccerWiki profile here.
An Argentinian & South American enthusiast and long-suffering Aston Villa fan, Tom began writing about the continent's always dramatic football after returning from a six-month stint working in Buenos Aires.He has since been featured on numerous sites, such as Sky Sports, IBWM and A Football Report.
You can find more at @tomrobbo89
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