Enner Valencia’s goal against Honduras this past Saturday made the small town of Ricaurte in the north of Ecuador go into a frenzy. This small town is closer to Colombia (11 miles from the border, to be exact) than it is from Guayaquil, but his success made that the epicenter of Ecuadorian soccer.
His goal helped La Tri get back into the race and help many fans begin to dream about the prospect of a spot in the round of 16 in the World Cup. The Ecuadorian international also made history when he got into the history books as he equaled Agustín Delgado’s mark for most goals scored in a World Cup.
This form has been the standard for Valencia the past six months as from a player that arrived in Mexico without much pomp, but ended up becoming the leading goalscorer in the Liga MX this past season. Despite all the plaudits that he received en route to the league finals and his all the rumors that link him to some top European clubs, Enner’s road to Brazil was an extremely long one.
In an interview in Ecuador, Enner’s father talked about how he was not just passionate about soccer, he was also very curious about the game. He was also willing to do anything to make that dream come true. “He did all his chores when he came from school – milk cows, pack and load products and clear water from the canoe – and then would not eat to go play soccer,” said his father.
On his days off from school, Enner sold the milk from his father’s cow to go and buy the boots he needed to go and play soccer. Seeing that commitment, his father gave him one of the greatest gifts a father could get an aspiring footballer. Enner’s father made a soccer ball out of rags so his son could practice and play on a consistent basis.
Enner began to shine and knew that he had to make a move, what he didn’t expect was that his “move” would be as a ten-year-old and headed to the province of Sucumbios over in the eastern, more Amazonic region of the country to join second division side Caribe Junior.
While there, he was sent to Ecuadorian giants Barcelona over in Guayaquil. As a young teenage kid, Enner was now on the other side of the country (179 miles from Ricaurte to Quayaquil) while his family survived up north. That made the blow of Barcelona rejecting him that much harder to take.
At that point when it seemed like his soccer career ended before it even started, Emelec took him in and began developing him. As years passed, he became one of the young players that had the potential to move up to the first side, but other coaches that were at the club decided to bring in imported players as a higher priority compared to young Enner.
This would all change when then-coach Jorge Sampaoli saw him play and decided to bring him on to the club’s senior side. The Argentine coach, currently coaching the Chilean national team, saw his physical attributes and saw him as a diamond in the rough.
It took very little, but Enner quickly decided to show and he eventually earned a spot in the starting lineup. Once that happened, Enner was not taken off. As time passed and Sampaoli left for Universidad de Chile and eventually the Chilean national team, Valencia remained solid and continued to improve.
By 2013, Valencia was the leading goalscorer in the Copa Sudamericana and was the top-scoring Ecuadorian in the domestic league that year and helped Emelec dethrone Barcelona in a record-setting season. By then, many began calling him “Superman” as his power and pace made the difference in addition to his penchant for the timely goal. All of this happened while wearing the number 14 of the late Otilino Tenorio, his childhood idol, who passed away in 2005.
Despite his successes on the pitch, Valencia still remembers his roots and gives back to the people of his hometown. Since he began his professional career, Enner has given back to his native Ricaurte by donating jerseys, uniforms, boots, balls and all types of equipment necessary for the kids in that area to play.
Still ingrained in his mind are those vivid memories of milking cows to be able to make those childhood dreams come true. This is what makes his story just as compelling off the pitch as it is on it.