SOCIAL MEDIA WAS AWASH WITH PRAISE.
‘Congratulations @Alexis_Sanchez on a superb hat trick today,’ tweeted Thierry Henry.
Michael Owen marveled over ’an exhibition of finishing’.
Arse?ne Wenger was delighted too. “He has all the ingredients to be a top-class striker and he shows that now in every game... when they walk home with the ball under their arm, it’s a good feeling and I think and hope that it gives him the taste for more.”
Alexis had already supplied a catalogue of outstanding moments in 2016/17, but it was this blistering 14-minute hat-trick at West Ham in early December that probably best summed up just how majestic his start to the season, how convincing his conversion to centre forward, has been.
Between the 72nd and the 86th minute, the Chilean ripped Slaven Bilic’s side to shreds, scoring one of the classiest Arsenal hat- tricks in recent memory to move him level with Diego Costa at the top of the Premier League’s goalscoring charts.
Alexis is loving his football right now, and he seems to be enjoying life off the pitch too. He spends any spare second with his golden retrievers, Atom and Humber.
In fact, Alexis recently set up an Instagram account for the dogs – it has already amassed over 50,000 followers at the time of going to print. The pair were even mentioned when Alexis gave a rare post-match interview – in English – after the recent home win over Bournemouth.
We don’t have the opportunity to chat to Alexis that often, so it was a real pleasure for us to sit down with him at the training ground to discuss a momentous 2016, his burgeoning understanding with Mesut Ozil and, of course, Atom and Humber.
THE BIG INTERVIEW
Alexis, let’s start with your dogs – probably the most famous animals in football right now. What makes them so special to you?
My dogs are very special for me. I’ve had them both with me since my time in Barcelona and I enjoy their company a lot. I appreciate their positive energy, especially after I’ve played in a match. Sharing my time with them makes me feel relaxed. I talk to them even though they have no clue about what I say!
How did you decide on the names Atom and Humber?
Atom is one of the characters in a movie called Real Steel. Atom the robot is very old and apparently useless but when he starts fighting he beats the best robots in the world. I liked the movie so much that I thought I would call my first dog Atom. My other dog Humber reminds me of my brother Humberto. My brother is a very sweet guy, just like Humber is. Both of them enjoy staying home or watching football on TV. That’s why I decided to call him Humber.
How do Atom and Humber get on with each other?
They are great friends. They’ve been together since they were very young and they get on really well. I actually have their names written on my football boots. Atom’s name is on the right one and Humber’s is on the left.
They’ve got their own Instagram account – and had 13,000 followers after 24 hours! How did that happen?
I just had the idea of creating an Instagram account for them so people could follow what they do. The thing is both became famous in Chile after starring in the Master Dog advert. I upload videos or pictures to their account whenever I can.
We’ve seen them on billboards all over Santiago too...
Yes, I saw their pictures on billboards when I went to Chile. They were smiling for the ad – what great acting! It made me laugh.
How much do you miss them when you’re away?
Whenever we play away I leave Atom and Humber with my friends. I miss them a lot because they give me a lot of positive vibrations. They look at me with shiny eyes when I wake up every morning – I just love the fact they want to play with me all the time.
What other animals do you like?
I like horses, polar bears and panda bears. They are all very tender animals. I also like dolphins because they are the most intelligent ones. I would say that those four are the ones I like the most.
Is it true that you once saved a rabbit from a wild boar?
Yes, that story is true. I was driving up in the mountains not far from Barcelona with my mother and friends when a white rabbit stopped in front of us. Apparently rabbits get blocked when a strong light points at them. I suggested we caught him and that’s what we did. I ended up having three pets instead of two. I took care of him, fed him... I remember being on my way to training once and having to turn back and return home because I had forgotten to feed my pets. The three of them got on really well.
Where does this love of animals come from?
I like animals and nature. Animals instil positive energy and having them around, together with being in a natural environment, relaxes me.
What else do you do to relax?
I have many ways of relaxing – listening to music, walking the dogs in the park and drinking mate tea [a traditional South American tea]. What music genres do you particularly like? I listen to different types of music, such as reggaeton, Aventura, Bryan Adams or Pavarotti to mention a few. Depending on the day I listen to one style of music or another. I’m actually learning a lot of English thanks to my favourite lyrics.
You play the keyboard too, right?
Yes. I am not a piano expert at all but I can play it a bit. I’ve learned a handful of songs and playing the keyboard relaxes me too. I can play Bryan Adams and the Titanic soundtrack and while I’m not an expert, I find it helps me to de-stress. Sometimes you must put football aside for a while and put your attention on some other things.
We saw you giving a rare English interview on TV recently – your language skills have really improved.
Yes, recently I did a live interview in English for the first time in my life. I found it a bit difficult, but at the same time I felt comfortable too. I must keep on learning the language so I can develop as a person.
Has anyone in the squad particularly helped you to learn?
My team-mates in general have helped me a lot. I have also learned English in some other ways, even through having a stroll in the street. People approach me, talk to me in English. My listening and my conversational English are improving a lot thanks to that.
How have you learned words not necessarily related to football?
At the beginning I took lessons for two hours a day. Then I had to make use of what I learned so I could communicate with my team-mates and the manager. I truly like the English language. Learning it helps me grow as an individual.
What about London? What do you do in the city?
I used to go to London to eat something or have a drink with my friends. However, I am a very home-loving person and I spend a lot of time at home. I do explore the city if I have the time for it but normally I’d rather stay relaxed at home. London can be a stressful place because it’s crowded and it’s a big city. Our routines as footballers can be energy-consuming too. You play one game after another, meet new people every day and travel a lot. That’s why I try to disconnect and relax as soon as I get some time off.
We’re coming to the end of 2016 now – you’ve had some very special moments, especially with Chile...
Winning the Copa America made me really happy. Every player in the national team did their absolute best so we could win it – I played with a sprained ankle. In regards to this season with Arsenal, we have to go step by step, taking care of those small important details so we don’t leave it to chance and we don’t let it go.
Can you describe how happy winning the Copa America again made the Chilean people?
After the final I stayed a few days in the United States just making sure I looked after my ankle. After five days I felt much better and then I returned to Chile. People there were very emotional about winning the Copa America again. Chile have won back-to-back tournaments after being without a trophy for 100 years. In a way our success is comparable to Spain’s a few years ago. We are proud we beat Argentina twice in a row to win two Copa America titles because they are one of the best teams in the world.
Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas are still two of the most iconic footballers in Chilean history. How does it feel knowing that you have now entered that category too?
I still cannot measure it and for the time being I want to enjoy playing football. Once I retire I will sit down and think about what I did for Chile, for Arsenal and for all the clubs I have played for. Chilean people and the Chilean media are not used to Chile winning trophies because we had never won a title before. Prior to our success we were always on the losing side whenever we played a top national team. Our main rivals were the likes of Peru or Bolivia. We’ve established a winning mentality in the national team that we must perpetuate. I don’t know if the next Chilean generation will be as good as our one, but I am afraid it will take a long time for Chilean football to have a generation like the current one again.
Going back to Arsenal, if you could play alongside one of the club’s legends, who would it be and why?
I would like to have played with Henry. He could score, play one-twos with you, pass the ball, hold it... he had a huge repertoire and great vision too. I like playing with players with such a panoramic vision.
How would that partnership work?
I think we would do great together. We would be constantly moving, going up and down, coming and going. I would have loved playing with Henry.
Who would score more goals?
He was more of a scorer than I am. I think I would assist him for every goal he would score! I’m more into passing and he is a great goalscorer.
Everyone’s talking about your understanding with Mesut on the pitch. How has that developed this year?
Mesut is a quality player – he really enjoys playing football. I always tell him to enjoy it and not get too worried about scoring. If he enjoys it he can score more like the one against Ludogorets where he dribbled past two defenders and the goalkeeper. His goal against Ludogorets is the kind of goal every player dreams of. I feel very comfortable playing alongside him. He has a great vision and there’s no need to praise his great touch because everyone knows about it.
Tell us about the respect you have for each other...
We do respect each other. That’s the way it should be between players and team-mates. We have to respect each other and do our best on the pitch. What makes Mesut such a special player? He is a quality player, willing to win all the time. He wants to prove his quality in every game and every training session. That makes him special. He is a World Cup winner with a winning mentality and he’s still eager to win more.
Finally Alexis, what are your ambitions for 2017 here at Arsenal?
I feel really happy and comfortable at the club. I want to give the supporters a new title. We always get our fans’ support through thick and thin, which is great. We must win the Premier League or Champions League for them.