A De La Cruz Tribute
When Aston Villa allowed Ulises De La Cruz leave on a free transfer in the summer of 2006, I was gutted.
Firstly, Martin O’Neill sought to replace him with a right back that you can only have nightmares about. Turning once more to his former club, the ex-Celtic manager took on French defender/midfielder Didier Agathe. The very fact that Agathe did not earn a longer term deal is some testament to O’Neill’s judgement; however the initial signing did make many a Villa fan wonder. This was a player who in Villa’s 1-1 draw with Fulham attempted to knock the ball round a defender to chase onto, only to run out of breath and slow to a near halt allowing a defender to pick up the loose ball. To date it is believed he has since failed to find a new club.
Secondly, Villa were losing what I believed to be a model professional. The only time that Uli aimed any sort of criticism towards his employers was when he accused former Villa boss David O’Leary of blocking the Ecuadorian’s exit from Villa Park. De La Cruz was the back up player dreams were made of, rarely commenting on his playing time (are you watching Thomas?) and would ‘do a job’ whenever it was required.
He was, in no uncertain terms not the long-term answer for the full back position either pre, or during the current reign of Randy Lerner and his 5-year plans, however he was a considerably better option than the likes of Agathe or even former Manchester United loanee Phil Bardsley.
Ulises De La Cruz is also a professional footballer that puts many of his high-earning contemporaries to great shame.
Christmas is the traditional time of year that professional footballers go on their hospital visits, giving up a few hours of their busy schedule to pose for photographs, give presents, and generally be the seasonal highlight of children suffering from illness or injury. It is after all the least they can do, for John Terry a 2-hour trip to his local children’s unit would make up approx £714 of his weekly salary.
There are however, footballers that go to greater lengths to help those less fortunate than themselves.
Step forward former Aston Villa defender, Ulises De La Cruz who comes from Piquiucho, Ecuador.
DLC made the BBC News headlines in January of this year as they picked up on the fact that the now-Reading player donates a portion of his wage every week to fund projects to regenerate the community that he grew up in.
Fundecruz, the charity set up for this very reason was started 8 years ago as Uli looks to improve conditions for the Afro-Ecuadorian community that is situated 3 hours drive North of the capital city Quito. Every day, 100 local schoolchildren are provided with breakfast and lunch, all courtesy of the wage earned by De La Cruz. Other projects have included a permanent sewerage system, school and upgraded medical facilities.
All of these projects have come from donations to the player’s foundation, and his wages. This has led to further criticism from the local residents aimed towards the Ecuadorian Government who have, largely ignored the efforts being undertaken by one of it’s own national footballers.
For the future, De La Cruz is looking to build a hospital, high-school and university for the area of Ecuador that boasts more international footballers per area than any other part of the world!
The 32-year old told BBC how the countries two most recent trips to the World Cup Finals have led to massive improvements for the people of Piquiucho:
'The 2002 World Cup, when Ecuador qualified for the first time, financed the 18km of water pipes and a treatment system.
'The 2006 World Cup in Germany, when we reached the second round, was important because the success means I can finance a new sports and community centre, now under construction.'
'I want to create opportunities for the children to show that they can have a brighter future.'
Often branded by Villa fans as “Useless,” I urge everyone to have a re-think for a man who gave his all for Villa, and gives an awful lot more to those who have not had the lifestyle enjoyed by the football superstars of today, to gain that chance of doing so.
You can find more information, including ways to assist Ulises De La Cruz with his Fundecruz project (now a UK registered charity) by visiting ulisesdelacruz.org