IF YOU hadn’t witnessed the Ben Brereton fairytale this summer, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was something only Football Manager could throw up.

Well the worldwide phenomenon that is the managerial simulation game certainly had a role to play in Brereton being a Chilean phenomenon, even if the game may not have been solely responsible for the story of the summer.

It’s a chapter that has come to an end, Chile beaten by hosts, tournament favourites, Brazil, in the last eight, and they depart the competition with their one win coming from Brereton’s debut strike against Bolivia.

That was his first start, by the end of the competition he had featured in every game, starting three of the five, and enhanced his reputation, while the south American country have taken ‘Big Ben’ to their hearts.

The story has transcended from Salesbury to Santiago, Brereton, and Rovers, becoming social media sensations, and the relations between La Roja and Ewood Park an unlikely friendship.

And with a role to play in the whole Brereton story is Rovers season ticket holder, Mark Hitchen, a 35-year-old assistant headteacher, but more crucially to this story, a Football Manager researcher.

A role held for the last decade, Mark’s work also included a stint scouting for Rovers, set on by Shebby Singh to find alternatives for Jordan Rhodes, with Christian Benteke among those thrown up.

There was also a role in this for Rovers themselves, a programme feature A-Z threw up Brereton’s Chile connection in the ‘unknown’ section, the attacker opting to reveal his mother’s heritage within his answer.

And it was that which set Mark to work, having been flagged up by fellow researcher Bill King.

“Rovers did the A-Z interview, I hadn’t seen it, and it was September and I was watching one of the games with a friend and he said ‘did you know Ben Brereton can play for Chile?’,” Mark explained.

“He said that he’d read it, so I flicked through the programme and there it was.

“I was updating it for the new season so I made that change and I had to send them a link to the interview, verified it, and away we went.”

Alvaro Perez, a Chilean Football Manager enthusiast and streamer, soon found Brereton’s updated eligibility, and began to flag it up online, and he wasn’t alone.

That prompted Football Manager to double-check his eligibility, and Mark’s ratings, as part of their ‘rigorous’ guidelines’ as virtual managers of Chile began to call him up to the squad.

“It’s a worldwide game and I started to get notified by Football Manager that he was getting called up in the game," he said.

“They knew he was eligible but they wanted to check that his rating was right and I said I was confident with the ratings I had given him.

“I started to see the Chile flags on his Instagram feed, there were YouTube blogs where people were suggesting he should be called up, showing clips of him.

“It massively took off towards the end of the season when it started to become a real possibility.”

Suggestions from the Chilean officials are that conversations with Brereton, and his family, over pledging his allegiance to La Roja started as early as last summer, and his application for a Chilean passport took all of four months.

That was started by previous boss Reinaldo Rueda and taken up by current incumbent Martin Lasarte, calling Brereton up to the squad at the earliest opportunity, a World Cup qualifying double-header in June, followed by the Copa America.

The story has been so extraordinary that sandwiched in between Lionel Messi and Neymar in Brazilian newspaper O Globo’s team of the Copa America group stages, was Brereton.

Mark, born in Great Harwood but now based in Helmshore, has followed Brereton’s Chilean involvement like every Rovers supporter, and says he couldn’t be happier for the attacker.

“He seems a really likeable lad, I couldn’t be happier for him,” he added.

“I felt really sorry for him when he first signed, I know what Blackburn fans can be like, I think Covid and behind closed doors games was the best thing that happened for him.

“All that pressure wasn’t there, he started to flourish towards the end of the season before last.

“Last season you could see that he’d been working on his physique and last season I thought he did really well.

“It was the fee that did it, but if he was a 19-year-old coming through the Academy people would be raving about him.

“People last season were still talking about his goal return but he’s been playing as a wide player, not a forward, so his return was pretty decent.”

As for Brereton, well he will now embark on the journey back from Brazil before returning to Rovers, who will consider the attacker’s summer workload, and quarantine period, before deciding when he will join up with them once again.

For Mark, it will be a case of watching Rovers largely as a fan, but with also a small eye on submitting his next ratings, and possibly being part of another Football Manager-induced storyline.