Cologne - Three games into his second Bundesliga tour of duty, Arturo Vidal is gearing up for a double-quick reunion with an old acquaintance when FC Bayern München play host to Bayer 04 Leverkusen in this weekend's top match. Leverkusen was the then 20-year-old Vidal's first European stop-off on his way to the very top, but the Chile international midfielder is unlikely to be dwelling mistily on times past come kick-off at the Allianz Arena on Saturday evening (18:30 CEST).
Neither would his new employers expect him to. Signed within two weeks of Bastian Schweinsteiger's departure for Manchester United, Vidal has a style similar to that of the record champions' club icon in some respects but in others, he is indisputably his own man.
Despite Bayern having wrapped up a third straight league title with something to spare, sporting director Matthias Sammer acknowledged specific shortcomings had been identified within the team, which the new arrival is best equipped to help start addressing.
Above all, Vidal is expected to add an edge of physicality and aggression to the superslick possession game still being honed to perfection by head coach Pep Guardiola. The Santiago native is ready and willing to oblige. Far from being overawed by his new, star-studded surroundings, he has declared his hand from the off, telling Munich's tz newspaper he fully intends to become “a leader” at Bayern: “That's how it's been wherever I've played and it's a role I'm looking to maintain here. It suits my character, and my game.”
Enticed away from Juventus FC, who won four Serie A titles in a row with him as their midfield enforcer, Vidal now has the opportunity to help Bayern replicate the feat – one never before achieved in the Bundesliga, by themselves or anyone else. For their new number 23 it would also be a first, the runners-up spot behind Borussia Dortmund in 2011 being the closest he came in his four years at Leverkusen.
That same summer, on the back of a personal campaign that saw him score ten goals and lay on another nine, he made the switch from the right bank of the Rhine to Turin – although not before seriously considering an extension of his working relationship with head coach Jupp Heynckes, who was then in the process of swapping Bayer for Bayern.
Toughest test yet, against ex-club
Heynckes, who recently confirmed from first-hand experience that players like Vidal “don't come along too often,” famously went on to lead the Munich outfit to their first-ever Bundesliga, DFB Cup and UEFA Champions League treble in 2013. “Hopefully I can achieve that with Bayern as well. That has to be the target,” Chile's freshly-crowned Copa America winner has already mused in typically self-confident fashion.
The next of many steps still to come in that direction is, then, against a Leverkusen side much-changed in the four years since he left but with at least a couple of familiar faces still in their ranks, in Lars Bender and Stefan Kießling. Bayer, like Bayern, have won both their opening league encounters so something has to give this time around. If he gets his third start in as many games, 'warrior' Arturo Vidal will be looking to make his usual, singularly unsentimental contribution to a bad day out for his one-time paymasters.