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Last Updated: Monday, 14 August 2006, 08:36 GMT 09:36 UK
Tim Vickery column
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Luis Antonio Valencia
Valencia has signed on a year's loan from Villareal

Two months ago Ecuador proved to themselves and everyone else that they are more than altitude specialists by making it into the top 16 teams in the world.

They now want to stay there - and an important part of this process of consolidation could be taking place at the unlikely setting of Wigan Athletic.

Impressed with what he saw at the World Cup, Wigan manager Paul Jewell has snapped up Ecuador midfielder Luis Antonio Valencia.

Tall, strong and talented, just a week past his 21st birthday, with 21 caps and three goals for his country, Valencia is a player of huge potential.

But a move like this is always a gamble, where in this case the stakes are high for the club, the player and his country.

The next stage in the rise of the Ecuadorian game is for their best players to hold their own in European club football.

From a South American perspective it is always sad to see the stars go.

It is striking that those Ecuadorians who have come to Europe have so consistently failed to settle

But there are countless examples of the benefits of the process - when they move to Europe the players are forced to be more professional, they gain from coming up against the best in the world every week, and their achievements serve as a spur and an example to youngsters back home.

Ecuador are still waiting for their first European success story. Their most durable export across the Atlantic has been rightback Ulises De La Cruz, who has had such a stuttering career at Aston Villa.

In fairness, these are still early days for Ecuadorian football at world level. The first player from the country to move to Europe was Ermin Benitez, father of one of the World Cup squad, as recently as 1986.

So there has not been much time for Ecuadorians to make an impact. Even so, it is striking that those who have come to Europe have so consistently failed to settle.

It is a topic which is frequently debated in Ecuador. The usual conclusions are that the players lack self-esteem, and that they find it hard to give their best away from the support structure supplied by their extended families.

Ulises de la Cruz
Aston Villa player Ulises de la Cruz is Ecuador's biggest export success

Hopefully this does not apply to Luis Antonio Valencia. But the experience of last season could be a worrying sign.

The young Ecuadorian hardly had a look in after moving to Spain to join Villareal, who ended up loaning him out to Recreativo Huelva in the second division.

At Villareal, Valencia was with Spain's most South American club - coach Manuel Pellegrini is from Chile and has worked in Ecuador and the squad includes players from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Uruguay.

But despite the favourable context Valencia failed to make the grade.

Wigan does not provide these advantages. There is a new language to deal with and a different style of football to get used to - all at a location far away from London's Ecuadorian community.

Valencia, then, will have to do it the hard way. But there is no reason for him to suffer from a lack of self-esteem. In front of a global audience he has already proved himself one of the most talented young midfielders around.

If he can do it in a World Cup, there should be nothing stopping him doing it every week for Wigan Athletic.

  • Tim Vickery takes part in Up All Night's World Football phone-in every Saturday morning at 0230 BST on BBC Radio Five Live

    Wigan snap up Ecuador's Valencia
    03 Aug 06 |  Wigan Athletic
    Search for more Vickery columns
    12 Jul 05 |  World Football
    Tim Vickery column
    13 Feb 06 |  Football


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