Nicolas Castillo: Club Brugge’s Chilean Hitman
With the likes of Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez at the top of their game and the national team back to its high-tempo best under Jorge Sampaoli, it’s fair to say that Chilean football is in rude health right now. Aside from being considered by many as dark horses for the World Cup, a promising batch of youngsters is emerging and chief among them is powerful 21-year-old striker Nicolas Castillo. Belgian giants Club Brugge moved quickly to secure his signature in a €3million deal this January and the Jupiter Pro League should provide the perfect platform for Castillo as he makes his formative first steps in European football.
Who is Nicolas Castillo?
Hailing from the working class community of Renca in the outskirts of Santiago, Castillo joined boyhood club Universidad Catolica at the age of 12. When he wasn’t training at the Estadio San Carlos de Apoquindo, he was on the terraces and even formed part of the ‘la de Renca’ barra brava. This close affiliation with the club immediately endeared him to the ardent Cruzados supporters.
Castillo progressed through the various youth divisions and began to attract attention when, in 2010, he captained the title winning U17s and was awarded the prize of Catolica’s best youth player of the year by the club. 2010 was also the year that marked his competitive debut with the first team, in which he came off the bench to score against San Pedro de Atacama in the Copa Chile Bicentenario.
The following year Castillo grabbed headlines after he scored a brace against rivals Colo Colo in the Copa Chile – Universidad Catolica would go on to win the competition – and he made a handful of league appearances. However, he wasn’t able to tie down a regular spot and returned to the youth divisions, a frustrating setback for the youngster but one that would go on to help him grow as a player. He impressed at international level though, finishing the Copa UC Sub-17 as top scorer with seven goals.
2012 would prove to be Castillo’s breakthrough into the first team. He scored his first league goal, a header against Rangers de Talca, during the Apertura and went on to hit the back of the net another seven times during the year, while also netting two more in the Copa Chile. Castillo also got his first taste of continental football, appearing briefly in the Libertadores and then six times in the Sudamericana. Two goals in the latter took his tally to 12 for the year and saw him named Best Youngster in the Sudamericana.
If 2012 was his breakthrough, then 2013 cemented his reputation – both domestically and internationally – as one of the most exciting prospects in Chile. The year began in spectacular style as Castillo notched five goals in seven games for Chile U20s in the Sudamericano, helping la Rojita to qualify for the World Cup in Egypt later that year.
Another nine league goals, two in the Copa Chile and three more in the Sudamericana represented a decent return as Castillo became an increasingly important member of the squad. Internationally he continued to shine, with four goals in four games at the U20 World Cup as Chile reached the quarter-finals, while he also made his senior team debut, coming on as a substitute in the qualifier against Peru.
His performances had not gone unnoticed and a number of clubs – namely Manchester Utd and Fiorentina – were reportedly interested. Castillo came close to joining Hanover before Club Brugge eventually swooped, landing the starlet for a mere €3million on a 4 ½ year deal. A goal on his debut against Genk was the perfect start to life in Belgium and the Blauw-Zwart faithful will hope that is the first of many to come.
Castillo leaves his beloved Universidad Catolica having scored 29 goals in 80 games – a decent ratio for a player who has only just turned 21 this month.
Style, Strengths & Weaknesses
Nicolas Castillo is a powerful striker with great technique, movement and heading ability and has been dubbed the ‘Chilean Zlatan’. While not an entirely accurate comparison, there are certainly some similarities in terms of demeanour and his capacity to produce something special.
One of his main strengths is his aerial presence. Despite a lack of height at 5’9”, Castillo is a fine header of the ball, whether it be powerful bullets, deft flicks or well-placed efforts. Combined with his strength and fine timing, he is able to lead the line well as a lone striker if needed and is also adept at holding the ball up and bringing others into play.
A very robust and physical frontman, he is a real fighter and not afraid to mix it with the big boys. Something that has always struck me is his swagger which oozes confidence – perhaps verging on arrogance on occasions – but nonetheless denotes a cocksure forward who trusts his ability. His tendency to rile opponents and unsettle defences is a double edged sword as it can force errors and bully defenders but similarly his confrontational approach can sometimes get him into hot water. His temperament and discipline will have to be one area of his game that he works on, especially against experienced centre backs, but if harnessed correctly, it can be a massive asset.
Far from being all brawn and no brain, Castillo is technically gifted and is more than able to produce moments of sublime skill. Good pace, close control and decent range of shooting make him a handful for any defender. He has also proven to be somewhat of free-kick specialist.
Castillo is now reaching a key moment in his development. He has all the hallmarks of a top modern striker but now faces the challenge of moving abroad for the first time in his career. For someone who has been both player and fan of Universidad Catolica since a young age, it will be a real test to see whether he can successfully adapt to life in Belgium and Europe. However, if he can achieve this and continue to improve his goals to game ratio there is no doubt he can be a huge hit. With a massive potential re-sale value, it looks to be a good move for both parties.