MILAN Arturo Vidal has arguably been the top player at Juventus this season yet at the same time the 25-year-old has become the target of criticism in his native Chile.
Juventus supporters have nothing but unrestrained admiration for the feisty midfielder, a tireless and versatile player who complements his ball-winning abilities with excellent distribution and an impressive scoring record.
Vidal, whose side visit AC Milan on Sunday (1945 GMT) in a meeting of Italy's two Champions League representatives, has scored eight goals this season, five in Serie A and three in the Champions League.
He was voted man of the match by both UEFA and Gazzetta dello Sport after scoring one goal and providing another in Juventus's 3-0 win over Chelsea on Tuesday.
"I'm happy to wear the shirt of Juventus, to play in front of these fans," said Vidal, who joined the club at the start of last season and won the scudetto at his first attempt. "I'm living through a beautiful moment of my life."
Yet his defiant goal celebration, when he put his finger on his lips, showed that not all is well with the former Bayer Leverkusen player. Back home in Chile, he has been vilified after being sent off in two successive internationals.
"The gesture was for those people in Chile who have criticised me," he told Gazzetta.
His most recent red card came a week ago for a shocking tackle from behind during Chile's 3-1 friendly defeat by Serbia.
Chile coach Claudio Borghi was fired following the game and criticism rained down on Vidal from the Chilean media, who are baffled over his disappointing performances for the country.
Chile team mate Pablo Contreras said Vidal had been made a scapegoat for his team's run of five defeats in a row.
"After everything that has happened, it's much easier to blame Arturo Vidal, but it is the whole team which has not been good enough during this period," he said.
Vidal, one of five players who was banned by Borghi last year after turning up late for a training session, admitted that discipline was an issue but said the Chilean media had been muck-raking.
"Football gives you so much and not everybody can handle it," he told FIFA.com in an interview this month.
"You need to grow up as a person and, because of the position you're in, sometimes you have a duty to set an example. But that's not an easy task because to do that you need certain qualities that only come with time.
"On the one hand, the Chilean media are always looking for details on what goes on away from the pitch. And on the other, Chilean players tend to be quite shy, which makes them even more nervous about speaking."
Last season's meeting between the two sides at San Siro was a top-of-the-table clash which ended in controversy and proved to be a decisive moment in the season.
Leading 1-0 and dominating the match, Milan had a second goal disallowed when officials failed to spot that Sulley Muntari's header had crossed the line. Juventus snatched an equaliser and went on to win the title.
Partly because of the incident, the Italian federation decided to adopt UEFA's system of having extra officials behind each goal line for Serie A this season.
This time, Juventus are again top while Milan are a modest twelfth, having lost six of their 13 games, after a summer of selling top players to balance the books.
However, their 3-1 win at Anderlecht on Wednesday has guaranteed them a place in the last 16 of the Champions League, bringing some relief to coach Massimiliano Allegri and giving them renewed optimism.
"I'm happy for the team and the club which has achieved the first target of the season with a game in hand," said Allegri. "We need more experience which we'll get as we're young." (Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Clare Fallon)