When Fulham signed Costa Rica's most successful import of recent years at the end of the summer transfer window, excitement at the club peaked. Bryan Ruiz - the Eredivisie's latest "next big thing" - linking with club favourites like Bobby Zamora, Damien Duff and Clint Dempsey looked a mouthwatering prospect for the Craven Cottage faithful. A short international break only let the anticipation build ahead of his big debut against Blackburn Rovers.
Pushed straight into the starting lineup Ruiz failed to make an impact, giving the ball away in uncharacteristic fashion before being hauled off at half time to be replaced by another former Eredivisie star, Moussa Dembele. In just 45 minutes the hype had been replaced by skepticism. Had Fulham made a mistake of Steve Marlet proportions? Was Bryan Ruiz more Afonso Alves than Robin van Persie? Fulham boss Martin Jol was quick to point out that they may have to wait for the real Bryan Ruiz to stand up.
"It's always difficult ya know as you come to the Premiership for your first game. I won't say it's a gamble but you have to start somewhere and that was a decision we had to make and we made the decision to play him, but of course it's a different tempo" said the former Ajax Coach.
"In hindsight I would have started Moussa (Dembele) and then bought him on because he's good ya know when there's a lot of pressure on the goal and space in the box. Bryan Ruiz would probably give us a lot in the second half". Jol was keen to absolve his new signing of blame and the excitement in his eyes as he spoke about the player’s exploitation of space was telling. The Dutchman remains sure Fulham have signed the right player. The fans still need convincing.
Last season Ruiz scored 9 goals in the Eredivisie from 24 starts as his campaign was broken up by injury. Usually employed on the right-hand side of a versatile 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 by then Coach Michel Preud'Homme, the Costa Rican helped his side maintain a title challenge until the final day of the season, losing 3-1 to Ajax in the deciding game.
A humble man who spends more time talking about the performances of his teammates than his own ability, Ruiz displays a refreshing honesty both on and off the pitch. The theatrics often expected from Latin footballers are unlikely to be seen at Craven Cottage this season.
It was the previous season that "La Comadreja" - the nickname given to him early in his career at Alajuelense meaning "the Weasel" - had really gained the attention of the footballing world. An Eredivisie ever-present, Ruiz scored 24 goals in 34 starts to guide Steve McClaren’s Twente to their first ever Eredivisie title.
The current Nottingham Forest Manager remains a big admirer of Ruiz and the feeling is most definitely mutual. Ruiz is often quick to remind people of the positive influence McClaren had on his career. Seeing him pay homage to those who have helped him along the way is not uncommon. A humble man who spends more time talking about the performances of his teammates than his own ability, Ruiz displays a refreshing honesty both on and off the pitch. The theatrics often expected from Latin footballers are unlikely to be seen at Craven Cottage this season.
Here is a man, a professional footballer, so down to earth he thought nothing of venturing into Twente’s club shop when he was a player there to buy Twente shirts. By the time he left he’d picked up the number of the shop assistant and set about making her his new girlfriend.
Twente's 2010 player of the year brings a fantastic array of skills to the West London club. Capable of playing in wide areas, off a target man, or as the focal point of an attack, his versatility brings options. Ruiz is incredibly mobile and while he is a master of exploiting space in the final third, his outstanding close control and technique can make a mockery of defenders who get too tight to him. Such skills will serve him well at Craven Cottage.
His signing should be further evidence that Jol is keen to move away from the traditional 4-4-2 that Fulham fans have seen over the past few seasons to a more typically Dutch 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 formation. With an intelligent and mobile attack including players like the talented American-schemer Clint Dempsey, Belgian international Moussa Dembele and energetic Premier League stalwart Damien Duff, the bland yet solid performances under previous boss Mark Hughes could be a thing of the past. Transition for both player and club will take time, but could be incredibly effective
It was perhaps a surprise that he signed for Fulham at all with the likes of Villareal and Tottenham Hotspur strongly linked during the summer. Their interest went cold despite a series of impressive early season displays, which allowed Fulham to pounce on the last day of the transfer window. Harry Redknapp’s loss will be Martin Jol’s gain.
Adored in Enschede and sent on with well wishes, Ruiz presence will be missed. Having already won the Eredivisie and KNVB Cup with a non "big-three" club the player had most certainly outgrown the Eredivisie. Now he has the stage to showcase his fantastic talent to English fans, and clubs alike. The English Premier League is at best unforgiving, at worst brutal, but it’s rare for the really talented players to not come good in the end. For anyone not named Suarez or nicknamed “Kun”, English football takes some getting used to but for those who had the joy of watching him in the Twente red, it’s unthinkable he could fail.
Still unconvinced? Then ponder this, in 2009-10 Ruiz went head to head with Luis Suarez as the two led their sides in an incredible battle for the Eredivisie title. The Ruiz-led FC Twente were crowned champions, the Costa Rican every bit Suarez’ equal, and we all know how little Luis has taken to the Premier League. At half the price Ruiz is an absolute steal. It’s a matter of if, not when, he finds his Twente form. Once he does Fulham fans will have a new concern, how to keep him.
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