Ask a Costa Rican, Belgian or a Dutchman to tell you about Byran Ruiz and you’d better have a spare couple of hours. I know because I’ve done it. They’ll regale you with tales of ‘the Weasel’s’ early emergence at Alajulense, how he announced his arrival at Ghent with an astonishing hat-trick against Lokeren or tore apart traditionally tight Eredivisie’s defences as FC Twente won their first ever league title. His silky skills are proven beyond doubt and it is a measure of the man’s undimmed professionalism that was candid in declaring his first season in English football a disappointment:
I don’t think the Fulham fans have seen the best of me yet. Last season was hard for me to do my best in the Premier League. I did a few things to show people what I have and, for sure, this season I’ll do my best for the fans.
Ruiz’s introduction to the Premier League, where everything’s far more hurried and physical than he’s ever experienced before, was a torrid one. He was substituted at half time on his debut against a dogged Blackburn, watched Fulham’s frustrating Europa League exit from the sidelines and, having shown glimpses of his class with two audacious goals against Everton and Bolton, saw his season disrupted – and eventually end prematurely – due to niggling injuries. He looked a little lost on the right side of midfield, where he proved so effective in Holland, and played some of his best football behind a central striker in the second half of the season. While some fans bemoaned Ruiz’s contribution, Martin Jol remained convinced that his big signing would come good. For Jol, that old English maxim held true: form is temporary, class is permanent.
After a full pre-season, a stronger and more confident Ruiz emerged in the early weeks of the summer. After sparkling in the sunshine on the opening day against Norwich, he played a key part in Fulham’s second half revival at Old Trafford – creating one goal and only being denied an injury-time equaliser by an outstanding save from David de Gea – and settled the game when introduced as a second half substitute at Wigan, making Fulham’s crucial second goal for Damien Duff, when he refused to let a mazy dribble be halted by a robust challenge on the edge of the box. Those who still sigh at his supposed lack of application should recall that Ruiz ran further than any other player in the 2-2 draw at Southampton last month.
By rights, Ruiz’s ridiculous equaliser at Reading just 180 sections after replacing the ineffectual Hugo Rodallega should settle any debate about his worth to the side. It was a goal of real beauty, combining the Costa Rican’s eye for a pass – he played a sumptuous give-and-go with Duff – with his eye of goal, demonstrated by the way he curled a delicious finish into the far corner from 20 yards. But there’s more to Ruiz’s game than eye-catching goals. It is difficult to do justice to the way his intelligent running and distribution tilted a game that appeared well out of Fulham’s grasp in the visitors’ favour, a process helped by his clever near-post corner, which was clinically converted by Chris Baird to make it 2-1.
Ruiz’s influence on a Fulham side he has barely featured for this term is underlined by some astonishing statistics. The 27 year-old has created thirteen chances and made four goals – more than any other member of Jol’s squad – despite only making six appearances for Fulham this season. He’s only started four fixtures for Fulham so imagine what ‘the Weasel’ might be able to magic up as a regular in the side. Ruiz has insisted that there’s plenty more to come – and on the early evidence of this exciting season – you’d be very foolish not to take the man at his word.