Costa Rica and Twente forward Bryan Ruiz has never shirked the challenges that have come his way. Since losing his father at an early age and being brought up by his grandfather, Ruiz has learned to ride the blows that life and football have aimed at him.
That resilience is the main reason why he has built on the reputation he acquired in helping his club to the Dutch league championship in 2010, despite going through a divorce and the first major injury lay-off of his career.
And though Twente relinquished their crown to Ajax on the final day of the recently concluded season, Ruiz is not about to let that or any personal setbacks upset his equilibrium, as he tells FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
“What happens in my private life doesn’t affect me when I’m out on the pitch,” he says, before moving on to the injury problems that forced him on to the sidelines for two and a half months late last year. “To be honest, it was a little hard to take as I’d never been through anything like that. It was all new to me, but luckily the medical staff were there to help me and show me the way forward.”
“I came back quickly only to get injured again, this time in the quadriceps. In the end I only played four and a half months of the season, and it was hard to get back in the swing of things,” he continues, explaining the problems that saw him score only nine goals last term, well down on the 24 he collected in top-scoring for Twente in their title-winning season.
“It took time, but the team waited for me and the coach kept faith, and when the moment came I got back in the side no problem. I’d already scored seven goals before I got injured, but when I came back I felt I was a better player because I was able to work on other aspects of my game while I was recovering from injury.”
Ruiz has come a long way since leaving Costa Rica in 2006 to sign a contract with Belgian side Gent, a deal that initially took him by surprise: “I thought I was going there for a trial, but when I saw that it wasn’t I jumped at the chance.” Spending three years in the Jupiler Pro League, he then made the switch to Twente, winning the Eredivisie title in his first season.
With another campaign now under his belt, the Tico striker is entitled to be content with his progress: “I’m more experienced and more mature now. I’ve learned from the things that have happened to me, like my difficult first season at Gent and the injury.
"I came to Twente to progress and I achieved that straightaway. The Eredivisie is the ideal league for developing your game and becoming a great player, and when you look at the coaches, infrastructures, philosophy and the mindset here, it’s no surprise that the Dutch have always produced good footballers.”
“I’ve made good decisions so far,” he adds, in reference to a career in which he has also become the spearhead of a Costa Rica side that is now undergoing a transitional phase. Los Ticos missed out on a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ after successive appearances at Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006, a tournament that Ruiz missed out on.
“To play in the World Cup is the ultimate,” he says. “We’ve been through a few changes with a lot of experienced players retiring and young players trying to bed down in the team. We’re on the right track now though, and we did a lot of good things in the friendly against Argentina [a 0-0 draw in San Jose in late March].”
That stalemate in the Costa Rican capital will have reassured new Tico coach Ricardo La Volpe, who is now preparing his side for the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup, which kicks off on Monday, with Costa Rica taking on Cuba in the tournament opener. “He’s working on the basics a lot, especially tactical discipline,” says Ruiz of the Mexican. “He’s been stressing the need for us to form a unit, to build play from the back and to defend when the need arises. We also need to be more pragmatic and kill off games when we have the chance.”
Conscious of the need to be “a leader who can talk to the youngsters and help them”, the maturing Ruiz is anxious to take Los Ticos on to bigger and better things, starting with the Gold Cup next week.