Alec Cordolcini

Every week in the Eredivisie at least four clubs think about what might have been, the goals they might have scored, from the forward they might have had. Twente striker Bryan Ruiz is excelling in Holland and making the four clubs that came within a whisker of his services have reason to regret not taking a chance on him.

In 2005, the Costa Rican went on trial at little Heracles Amelo, and whilst the Polman Stadion outfit instantly understood his potential they concluded their bank account would not be able to stretch to his signing. Ruiz packed his bags and moved on westwards, heading for the coast. In the same year he pitched up at Feyenoord, then coached by Ruud Guillt. The Dutchman took Ruiz on trial too, and declared himself "deeply impressed" with the striker and extended his time at the club. Circumstances intervened though, as Feyenoord stuttered under the former Chelsea manager and Gullit resigned. Needless to say no deal was forthcoming for Ruiz and he ended up in Belgium, with Gent.

Fast foward to 2009 and Ruiz was again under consideration in the Netherlands. Heerenveen were the club interested, but following a period of reflection came to the conclusion that the player's wage demands were too high and they would rather give another chance to former Fredrikstad striker Tarik Elyounoussi: The 22-year-old is now back in Norway, on loan with Lillestrom. However, if Heereveen did not want the goal-getter then it seemed for a moment that Ajax just might, but Ruiz was considered and dismissed. "He is not fast enough to play in our system" a club official told Gent general manager Michael Louwagie.

Now, as the 2009/10 season draws to a close, Bryan Ruiz is perhaps currently the best player in the Eredivisie, arguably alongside Ajax forward Luis Suarez. Where Suarez has been enjoying his fourth season in Holland though, Ruiz has barely finished his first. The Costa Rica star finally made the move across the border to Twente for the princely sum of €5M, quite an outlay for Steve McClaren's side. Money well spent however, and as Ruiz said himself to Spanish radio station Efe, now he could leave Enschede for "at least €15M".

Ruiz has 23 goals and eight assists at the time of writing and is leading Twente in their attempt to bring home the Dutch title for the first time in their history. The Tukkers enjoy a comfortable seven point lead over Ajax, with three matches left to play themselves to their rival's four. The Costa Rica star has been an integral part of their rise and has become key to coach McClaren's 4-3-3, making an instant impact by scoring on his debut against Sparta Rotterdam. Indeed, The Spartans are one of Ruiz's favourite targets as on 27th March 2010, when facing them for a second time at the Grolsch Veste, Ruiz scored one of the quickest hat-tricks ever, with goals in the 46th, 49th and 50th minutes. Only former Ajax forwards Jan Seelen (on 22nd March 1959), Henk Groot (18th April 1960) and Johan Cruyff (29th November 1970) were quicker.

The 24-year-old's performances have been vital in keeping Twente at the top of the table throughout the season: From 26th September 2009, Ruiz scored in ten consecutive Eredivisie games. On 20th March 2010, the Costa Rican provided an assist for fellow striker Blaise Nkufo's equalising goal in a crucial tie against giants PSV Eindhoven at the Philips Stadion. The result was key to keeping PSV five points off Twente and frustrating their rival's title aims. With performances like these it's no surprise the striker has become a favourite amongst the Twente supporters who have labelled him "El Pistolero" for his cold-blooded composure in front of goal.

Ruiz was scouted in 2006 by former Gent general manager Michael Louwagie, who flew to Costa Rica to watch the country's El Clasico between Deportivo Saprissa and LD Alajulense. The Flemmish club were on the lookout for someone to replace Mbark Boussoufa who had just been sold to Anderlecht. Ruiz turned out for Alajulense as an attacking all-rounder and with the Costa Rican giants had won the 2004 CONCACAF Champions Cup alongside the national championship. 13 goals in 31 games in that competition persuaded Louwagie to buy both Ruiz and team-mate Randall Azofeifa for €1M.

In Belgium, Ruiz spent most of the first season settling in, only really beginning to impress in the 2007/08 campaign. "In the beginning it was very hard" remembered Ruiz, "In Gent it was raining twenty-four hours a day, I couldn't understand a single word people said and I missed my Gialli Pinto (rice with black beans, a Costa Rican speciality). I had problems on the pitch too. Football in Europe is a world apart."

The striker broke into Gent's starting elven as a left winger in the 4-3-3 system employed by Trond Sollied. With the arrival of Michel Preud'Homme one year later, he found himself switched to forward in a 4-4-2 formation, and bagged 12 goals. At the end of that season Ruiz was awarded the prize of best foreign player in the Belgian league, and was included in the Jupiler Pro League's best eleven.

Ruiz can play on either flank or through the middle, has good heading ability and superb ball control, but according to Alfred Schreuder, Steve McClaren's assistant at Twente, his best quality is his mental attitude. "His teamwork is excellent" said Schreuder, "take a look at the statistics. In the previous season our forward line, with Marko Arnautovic, Eljero Elia, Blaise Nkufo and Kenneth Perez scored 43 goals. Actually, with Ruiz and [Miroslav] Stoch as replacements for Arnautovic and Elia respectively, it has become more productive: 47 goals. Ruiz was involved in 31 of them. I think very few people could have imagined this at the beginning of the season when Arnautovic departed for Internazionale and Elia swapped Twente for Hamburg."

Getting better by the year and still just 24, Bryan Ruiz has a bright future ahead of him, and Twente fans will hope even €15M won't be enough to take him away from Grolsch Veste this summer.


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