In some ways, taking a break midway through the season was a welcome and invigorating experience for Ben Brereton Diaz. But in others, the Blackburn striker knows where he would rather have been in recent weeks.
Chile’s late collapse in qualifying, losing four of their last five games, saw them miss out on a trip to the World Cup in Qatar.
“I like to watch football and I watch as many games as possible every day,” says Brereton Diaz Sky Sports. “It’s been very entertaining so far, I’ve really enjoyed it.
“But of course I would like to be there. Myself and all the Chilean boys would have loved to be at the World Cup. It is the most beautiful stage in football.
“We couldn’t be there this time, but we need to work hard and get off to a flying start when qualifying starts in March to make sure we don’t miss out again.
“When I meet them it will be the conversation with the gaffer and the boys. We have a great team so hopefully we can get good results and be there in four years.”
Chile’s loss will undoubtedly be Blackburn’s gain. The 23-year-old has already made 25 appearances this season and the rest will have served him well.
His national side clearly agreed, as head coach Eduardo Berizzo left him out of their two friendlies last month so he could take a break.
“We had 10 days off, so I had a vacation and relaxed,” says Brereton Diaz. “But we’re back at it since we trained in Spain with a few friendlies to get back up to speed. We’re ready to continue with the second half of the season.”
It was a rare missed international camp for a striker who has been one of football’s notable stories in recent years. Born in Stoke to an English father and Chilean mother, his career trajectory changed completely when he mentioned his origins in a Blackburn match programme.
It saw its profile updated on the popular PC game Football Manager, which caught the eye of the Chilean FA. And in the middle of last year, Ben Brereton became Ben Brereton Diaz, as he added his mother’s surname, and all of a sudden he played in the Copa America alongside Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Co.
Whether it was training with world-class talent or the confidence that the call-up brought, it took his game to a new level. He scored seven goals in 40 appearances in the 2020/21 Championship for Blackburn, up from 22 in 37 last season.
“For me, one of the best things about training with all the players was watching them play and learning from them,” he says. “There are some excellent players in that squad.
“To score for them when I first went out was an incredible moment for me and my family, here and in Chile.”
At home it has been a good season for Blackburn so far. For the campaign reboot – which gets underway as Blackburn presenter Preston on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Football – they are third in the table.
Oddly enough, they have yet to draw a game in 21, with new boss Jon Dahl Tomasson’s approach generally ending in an all-or-nothing result. One thing that hasn’t changed from last season is that Brereton Diaz have once again proved vital to their cause, scoring nine goals – including a goal against Sunderland that earned him the Sky Bet Championship Goal of the Month award for October — and one assist that added to their tally of 24.
And he has thoroughly enjoyed working under a former striker who has been one of Europe’s best for the past quarter of a decade.
“The manager has been brilliant,” said Brereton Diaz. “He wants to play the right way and all the guys have accepted his philosophy.
“His man-management is great, he’s always chatting to everyone and for me he’s been great for the club. It shows in how we play on the pitch.
“Training is always competitive. He was also a top striker, so sometimes he shows me things I can work on. But he hasn’t quite got the boots on yet!”
Brereton Diaz is pleased with how this campaign has gone so far, but will know how it can all unravel. Last season Blackburn were even second in February, but a disastrous confrontation saw them miss the play-offs under former boss Tony Mowbray.
He hopes things will be different this time and they can keep up the course. A mid-season break could help their relatively small roster to that extent.
“I really enjoyed the start of the season,” he says. “We’re in the top six, so we have nothing to complain about, but I always want more. I’m happy with the goals I’ve scored so far, but I definitely think for myself that I still have to get to my level to work.” play hold up.
“I need to get more assists and create more chances. But I’m working hard in training and hopefully I can bring that all into play on a match day.
“We’ve had more clean sheets. Defensively we were good. When you get clean sheets you win games and that’s one thing we’ve really improved this season.”
“When we score, we win games. We play great football from the back and finish it off with good play in the last third.
“We had this break and recharged a bit, now we have to go again in the second half of the season. All the work will have been for nothing if we don’t keep it up.
“Every Championship team wants to make the play-offs or get promoted. We’ve started well this season but like I said we have to keep working hard and the team wants to make the play-offs because everyone wants to play in the Premier League .
“The second half of the season is going to be huge. We know what we’re working for.”