By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter
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
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
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
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.
is striking that those Ecuadorians who have come to Europe have so consistently failed
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.
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
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
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.
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
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