Even before playing a single match in the Serie A, Gary Medel was already branded as dirty, sporco, (i.e. a player who relies only on aggression and hard tackles and that gets sent off many times in a season). Obviously this description doesn't quite fit what we have seen during Medel's time as a Nerazzurro: he was ejected only one time in just over a year and he never lost his composure once so far. These preconceived notions which arrived with him do have a seed of truth, however, so let's see why.
Medel hasn't always been th model player, father, and husband he seems to be right now. His nickname, El Pitbull, is not coincidental, and he earned it because of his aggressive attitude both on and off the football field.
Medel grew up in Santiago, the capital of Chile, in a poor barrio. It's extremely easy for young guys to get caught in the loop of drug trafficking and to become part of a gang there, but thanks to his parents - his father in particular - Medel followed a path that got him out of such a bad environment and helped him become a football player of international level.
There are a few episodes in Medel's life which could have affected his football career in a negative way, especially in 2009 when he was sent flying through his car windshield because he fell asleep at the wheel while travelling at 140 km/h. Fortunately for him, he didn't suffer any serious injuries and he just needed two months to recover from the accident and start playing football again. El Pitbull has a thick skin.
I began to understand where I was but when I touched my legs, I couldn’t feel them. I was afraid. Then my agent came to see me and he slapped my legs, and I felt them. That made me a stronger person.
Medel surely is a strong person. Not only physically, but mentally. He always gives his all when he steps on the pitch and sometimes he gets carried away by his emotions, making him show his aggressive side, This is when the bad face of The Pitbull rears its ugly head.
Two years prior his car accident, after an intense U-20 match against Argentina in which he was sent off just 15 minutes into it, the police had to taser him in the car park of the stadium because they weren't able to restrain him. "He just doesn't stop" Fredy Guarin said recently about him.I am a nice kind of crazy, as a child I would jump into tackles and never break down.
After two years of playing for the Argentinian side Boca Juniors and some good performances in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Medel was acquired by Sevilla for just €3 Million. It turned out to be an incredibly good deal because the Chilean immediately found his form there, playing as defensive midfielder with the unique determination that characterizes him. The 15 yellow cards in 31 games he picked up in the 11/12 season were the only flaw of his Spanish campaign.
In just three season at Sevilla, his market value quadrupled and Premier League side Cardiff City had to pay Sevilla a cool €13 Million to be able to enjoy his services. Despite showing more maturity both in terms of discipline (he only picked up 6 yellow cards in 35 matches) and understanding of the game, Medel's presence didn't prevent his team from being relegated in the Championship.
Medel seems to finally have found serenity and happiness at Inter Milan. He married the beautiful Spanish sport journalist Cristina Morales and the two now have a 3-month old baby. He loves the city and the club. And the fans love him back.
If dogs are a man's best friend, El Pitbull is a defence's best friend. He loves to play just ahead of the defensive line, often being an additional centre-back when needed. He is more than a defensive midfielder though, and that's why Mancini loves him so much and plays him as much as possible. He has a great football brain paired with an incredible instinct for the game, which is uncommon for player in that position. Plus, he has a rather precise passing sensibility which makes him very reliable when it comes to set-up play.
Statistically speaking, Medel's importance for Inter this season is very pronounced. He played 951 minutes in 11 of the team's 12 matches, second only to Inter keeper Samir Handanovic in this category. As much as the Pitbull loves to destroy opponents' plays by intercepting 22 passes per game (1st), he also is Inter's number one playmaker with 685 completed passes and a success percentage of 90.4% (7th best in the Serie A).
Another thing that makes Medel so essential in Mancini's eyes is his tactical knowledge. The Chilean is rarely seen out of position and he also seems to have a sixth sense for when his teammates need help. With short, but fast, steps, Medel is always in the right place both in the defensive and offensive phases of the game.
Medel may not be the most skilled and talented player in the world. In fact, he can rarely even claim to be the best player on the pitch in any given match. That's why he plays every match like it could be his last. He knows his limits, he embraces them, and does all he can to overcome them with his grinta and his strong attitude. That's what makes him the great player he is.
We love you, El Pitbull.