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Remember Him: Ulises de la Cruz

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Remember Him: Ulises de la Cruz

Post by Guest on Sat Apr 05, 2014 12:14 am

The Ecuadorian David Beckham was the name we heard. A bit odd then that he was a utility man who hardly pulled up any trees in the SPL for Hibs. Upon leaving us in 2006 De La Cruz went on to have spells at Reading and, somewhat briefly, Blues. De La Cruz has subsequently become well known for his charity work to help his village at home in Ecuador. Why have I started this thread? Well I was intrigued to find out that Ulises is now a politician back in Ecuador representing the Carchi Province for the PAIS Alliance in the Ecuadorian national assembly.

He is also not the answer to BillyBleach's Villa Quiz teaser, which was why I looked him up. Sad

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Re: Remember Him: Ulises de la Cruz

Post by Guest on Sat Apr 05, 2014 12:16 am

Article on UDLC's time at Hibs: http://terracepodcast.net/season-201314/2013/11/8/ulises-de-la-cruz

In football, it is very rare that a player be signed to a club for a substantial fee, play poorly for the duration of his time there and still command a transfer fee double that of what was originally paid for him. Such a rare narrative encapsulates the Hibernian career of Ecuadorian international Ulises de la Cruz. In fairness, his performance at the 2002 World Cup would have tempted even the more astute of managers, and there were more than enough reasons to explain his problems during the 2001/02 SPL season.
Alex McLeish was the man who originally brought the flying defender/midfielder to the club as he looked to rebuild a Hibs side that had finished third in the league the previous season but lost a few first team players during the summer. Russell Latapy departed to join Rangers, while Stuart Lovell, Mixu Paatelainen and Dirk Lehman were also allowed to leave the club. The Hibs manager wanted de la Cruz to provide the attacking spark that would be lost with Latapy's exit and he even flew from Scotland to Ecuador's capital Quito to watch the player in an international fixture. De la Cruz impressed both on and off the field after talking to his prospective new boss, and was himself touched that someone wanted him enough to make the hellish round trip down to South America.

He immediately became the marquee summer acquisition with the distinction of being the most expensive signing in the club's history at £700,000. Those who stayed up late during the summer to watch the events at the Copa America soon saw why. Despite a disappointing tournament for Ecuador, it was clear that de la Cruz was an extremely talented player. His pace and energy down the wing made him a threat throughout every match and his delivery didn't look too bad either.

The setting which initially provided those tantilising glimpses soon become the source of frustration for his new club After playing and impressing in a 2-2 draw with Kilmarnock to start the season he then set-up the Hibs goal in a 2-1 defeat at Dundee. While the results were not what supporters were hoping for, at least their star man looked very promising. However, just a few days later he was away back to South America to play in an international as Ecuador looked to make the 2002 World Cup. The extensive travelling persuaded McLeish that he was only fit enough for the substitutes bench in a 4-1 defeat by Celtic, where de la Cruz only entered the action once the game was beginning to slip away from the hosts.

This issue of 'club versus country' would rage on throughout his time in Leith. While fans will often turn on a player they perceive to be disloyal to the club paying his wages, it was hard to begrudge de la Cruz's desires under the circumstances. Ecuador had gotten off to a flyer in their qualification campaign and there was a real chance they would qualify for a World Cup for first time in their history.

The uncertainty of his availability caused him to be in and out of the starting line-up and produced some inconsistent displays when he did get on the park. These were thought to be minor teething problems while the player adapted to a new country, language and style of football all at once. There was certainly enough evidence to convince onlookers to be patient before writing him off as a dud. In a 5-1 win over Dunfermline he laid the opening goal on a plate for Craig Brewster and then whipped in an inch perfect cross for Paco Luna to give Hibs the lead in a home victory over St Johnstone. 5-1 again proved to be a happy scoreline for the player as he netted the first goal in Ecuador's demolition of Bolivia that took them one step closer to the World Cup finals. Then came arguably his best, and certainly most memorable, performance in a Hibs jersey.

Play one season at a reasonably high standard and be remembered for a few years; smash a 20 yard curler into the top corner of the net 36 seconds into an Edinburgh derby and be remembered for a lifetime. That's exactly what de la Cruz achieved when he cut in from the right-hand side and bent his left foot shot around Antti Niemi for the dream start to the first derby of the campaign. Things only got better from there. When Paco Luna's attempted chip across goal was deflected it landed at the feet of the the Ecuadorian who double his, and his team's, tally on 23 minutes. Hibs were thoroughly dominant in the first half and really should have been out of sight before Stephen Simmons's second half goal ensured a nervy finish. Despite the tension the team held on for a 2-1 win.

The elation the player felt from that victory remained when Ecuador finally confirmed their place at the World Cup with a 1-1 draw with Uruguay soon after. Former Crystal Palace striker Ivan Kaviedes scored a crucial equaliser after the visitors had silenced the expectant home crowd with a first half penalty. If Hibs and their fans thought this would be the end of the travelling saga then they were wrong. McLeish was confident of keeping the player in Edinburgh for friendlies and warm-up games having co-operated with the player's FA up until that point. However, the national team coach came out soon after and stated that every player was required to turn up for every friendly match if called upon.

McLeish, personally, soon got rid of this headache by leaving Easter Road to take over the vacant manager's role at Rangers. Frank Sauzee took over the running of the team and de la Cruz was soon to suffer his worst run of form while with the club. In fairness, everybody at Hibs was poor during Sauzee's brief but disastrous reign. However, not everybody had the price tag of £700,000 hanging above their head and fans paid particular attention to the shortcomings of their speedy wide-player.

His lack of distinction was part of the problem. Supposedly signed for his attacking qualities, the player spent most of the time playing right back. In Scottish football full-backs are expected to prioritise defending above all else. It was clear from watching de la Cruz for 90 minutes that this was going to be a struggle for a player who bombed forward at every opportunity. The change in managers, added to a gruelling schedule with his international obligations, would not have helped either. His time with the club reached its lowest point when he was substituted in a drab 0-0 draw with Stranraer in the Scottish Cup and then left out the subsequent replay, which, incidentally, was Sauzee's only win in charge of the team.

He was back in the side for an encounter with Aberdeen where he set-up two home goals but was at fault for three conceded in a 4-3 defeat. The criticism from the support was enough for his manager to back the player in public. Unfortunately for Sauzee, after falling in the League Cup semi-final to Ayr United, he was soon given his marching orders.

Bobby Williamson was Hibernian's third permanent boss of the campaign and he immediately set about improving the team's fortunes in the table with de la Cruz turning in his best performance in months to help defeat Dundee United at Tannadice. Soon after the new manager decided to end the player's season prematurely, in order to give him time to concentrate on the World Cup.

What a World Cup it was to be for the player. Squaring off against Italy in the opening game he continually flew past Paulo Maldini and was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise poor Ecuador performance as they went down 2-0. From there he impressed again in a 2-1 defeat to Mexico where he crossed for Agustin Delgado to open the scoring. Going into the final game his team were still in contention, but even though they defeated Croatia 1-0 they exited the tournament at the group stages. After the final match de la Cruz reinforced his commitment to Hibs, stating that he would be a much improved player in the new season having been allowed time to acclimatise to Scottish football.

He must not have been aware of the plaudits his play was getting and travelled back to the UK amid much speculation regarding his future with Parma, Chievo and Aston Villa all chasing his signature. In the end, Hibs – who had been looking to trim the wage bill – were able to sell on a £700,000 buy that they weren't particularly enamoured with for £1.6million. For Villa boss Graham Taylor it was a lesson in being wary of signing players off the back of great World Cups. The evidence of three games, regardless of the setting, should not outweigh a season's worth of mediocre showings. De la Cruz started brightly in a Villa shirt but soon faded terribly and is still regarded by the Villa faithful as one of the club's one signings in recent times. Somehow, he still managed to feature in close to 100 games with the club over four seasons. Even more perplexing was Reading's desire to keep the ageing full-back in the English top flight, a mistake they soon remedied after 15 games.

Where is he now? For years the footballer was devoted to his charity work helping the less privileged members of Ecuadorian society and even committed a large amount of his personal fortune to the cause. Since retiring he has made the next step in helping make his country a better place to live for everyday by going into politics. He was elected to the assembly earlier this year.

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Re: Remember Him: Ulises de la Cruz

Post by Guest on Sat Apr 05, 2014 12:40 am

I actually also thought of him earlier on when I was scratching my head trying to think what player Ian was referring to.


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Re: Remember Him: Ulises de la Cruz

Post by The Great white walnut on Fri Apr 11, 2014 12:40 pm

My one abiding memory of him was in a home game when one completely pissed bloke kept calling him Usi-less every time he touched the ball, to the point where, if he hadn't passed out just before half time, I would have probably smacked him, the annoying twat. Apart from that I remember very little about him
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Re: Remember Him: Ulises de la Cruz

Post by Guest on Fri Apr 11, 2014 1:09 pm

He scored a cracking goal while playing at right-back against someone like Charlton, cutting in to score. That's about the sum of my memories of him though.

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Re: Remember Him: Ulises de la Cruz

Post by pooligan on Fri Apr 11, 2014 8:31 pm

I remember Del La Cruz well, Not one of the best players i have ever seen in a Villa shirt,but the guy always gave 100 per cent.

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Re: Remember Him: Ulises de la Cruz

Post by Guest on Fri Apr 11, 2014 8:34 pm

@pooligan wrote:I remember Del La Cruz well, Not one of the best players i have ever seen in a Villa shirt,but the guy always gave 100 per cent.

Yup, he was good. We were quite strong down the right back then with Delaney was right back and UDLC as either back-up or an option to play right midfield. And of course Barry on the left.

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