SANTIAGO (AFP) - Chilean football star Arturo Vidal made a tearful apology Wednesday after he was stripped of his driver’s licence for crashing his Ferrari while driving drunk, but dodged suspension from the national team.
After spending the night in jail, the Juventus midfielder appeared in court in Santiago, where the judge freed him from custody but suspended his licence and ordered him to report to the Chilean consulate in Milan every month under the terms of his release.
Vidal then rushed off to Chile’s training camp for the Copa America, where he tearfully took responsibility for the accident and apologised to his team and the country.
“I let everyone down,” the 28-year-old star said.
“I want to tell you what happened. Yesterday I went to the casino. I had two drinks,” he told journalists, struggling to get his words out.
“I put my wife’s life at risk, a lot of people’s lives at risk. I’m very sorry.”
Vidal, who is home from Italy playing with the national team in the South American championships – where he is currently the leading scorer – collided with another car late Tuesday as he and his wife, Maria Teresa Matus, drove home from a night out following a day off from training.
The couple were briefly taken to hospital after the accident on the outskirts of the Chilean capital, which left Vidal’s red Ferrari badly mangled on the driver’s side, its airbags deployed.
Vidal was then carted off to jail in the back of a police car.
Officials have not disclosed how much alcohol he had in his blood.
'BEYOND ANY MISTAKE'
The tone of Vidal’s apology was markedly different from a YouTube video he posted proclaiming his innocence after the accident.
“It was not my fault,” he said in the video, thanking his supporters and giving a thumbs up.
A video of the accident scene posted online by Santiago radio station Bio Bio showed Vidal combatively exchanging words with police officers.
“Go ahead and handcuff me, but you’re going to shit all over Chile,” he said in the recording.
Chile, which is hosting this year’s Copa America, is fighting to win the tournament for the first time and has its hopes pinned largely on Vidal.
After a night of hand-wringing for Chilean fans, coach Jorge Sampaoli said he would not suspend the star.
“He’s just arrived and we’re going to see how he is and try to make him understand that he maybe made a mistake, which for us is not so decisive that we need to suspend him,” he said.
He said Vidal has always shown “very good behaviour” under his watch, despite his previous brushes with controversy.
“This accident of Arturo’s is not going to affect Chile because he’s a player who is with the team, beyond any mistake,” he said.
Vidal does not face jail time because only he and his wife were hurt in the accident. He suffered “minor injuries” and his wife has “moderately serious injuries,” police Colonel Ricardo Gonzalez told reporters.
Under Chile’s zero tolerance law on drunk driving, Vidal could have his license suspended for up to two years.
FIREWORKS ON AND OFF PITCH
The combative player is no stranger to controversy.
In 2011, he was among five players excluded from Chile’s squad preparing for World Cup qualifiers after they turned up for training late and drunk.
He was welcomed back to the fold after apologising.
This season, Juventus imposed a club record US$112,000 fine after Vidal was allegedly involved in a drunken brawl outside a Turin nightclub.
He is known as “King Arturo” to adoring fans at home and “The Warrior” at Juventus because of his tough style of play.
He has scored three times in two matches in the Copa America, which kicked off Thursday and wraps up with the final match on July 4.
He hit a penalty in Chile’s opening victory against Ecuador and two more goals in Monday’s 3-3 draw with Mexico in Santiago – just 24 hours before his accident.
Chile are at the top of Group A and meet Bolivia in their final first-round match on Friday.