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Bryan Ruíz On Martin Jol And Dimitar Berbatov's Impact At Fulham

23/02/2013 09:58 GMT

The Thames may be calm in Putney but the biting wind makes for a frantic stroll by the river. The occasional jogger braves the cold but Bishop's Park is sparse despite it being half-term, and those few children tottering across the muddy grass look affronted by their day out.

A stone's throw away, Craven Cottage on a non-matchday is a sight to warm the intrepid locals. Such a throwback is the proudly archaic football ground, had the weather not been so dissuading you could imagine kids kicking a ball against the wall of the Johnny Haynes stand.

Bryan Ruíz is something of a throwback for the Whites, too. A skilful maverick and crowd-pleaser, for older supporters he has evoked memories of the mid-70s hegemony of Best, Marsh and Moore. Under Martin Jol, Fulham have emerged as one of the Barclays Premier League's most attractive sides to watch, with Ruíz's South American-born-continentally-honed wizardry instrumental.

Waiting in one of the Riverside Stand's plush executive lounges, a group of American tourists are enjoying a tour but miss the Costa Rican as he heads outside for a quick promotional photograph. He is accompanied by his towering manager for a Q&A before our interview and Ruíz himself is an imposing but affable 6ft 2in, a few centimetres shorter than one of his inspirations.

Paulo Wanchope was a big influence for his countryman, who remembers that extraordinary 1997 debut at Old Trafford.

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"I remember the goal he scored against Manchester United," Ruíz beams. "That goal was amazing. He also did very well here, everyone remembers him as a big player, also for West Ham United and Manchester City. He's working with the national team now as assistant trainer so we try to use his experience for our own good." Ruíz himself came close to scoring past United three weeks ago, only to be denied by a David de Gea save so fine some writers failed (or declined?) to reference it in their match reports. "I thought he touched it," Ruíz admits.

Injuries have restricted Ruíz's presence in the Fulham line-up in his second season with the club. Literally hamstrung in August, a groin injury and a second hamstring setback in November have caused him to miss over two months' worth of game-time, although he feels "normal in everything, my rhythm, I'm trying to play my best football now and I don't feel any problems."

"It is getting better all the time and these last three months I have reached my highest level so hopefully I will have a good end to the season," he adds optimistically. Fulham have lost only four of the 10 games he has featured in since his Boxing Day comeback.

Ahead of the interview one of the obvious issues was whether an interpreter would be present, however his English is excellent. Three years with Gent in Belgium and two in Holland with Twente perhaps explain the adjective he uses to describe how he has adapted to living in the UK.

"I think it's easy," he responds without hesitation. "Because I first went to Belgium and didn't speak any English, so it was difficult there. But I had to learn, I didn't receive lessons but I had some friends who helped me to learn it and then went to Holland, where people speak English. They wanted me to learn Dutch but I learnt a little bit, not too much, but English there is easier.

"I came here and talked to some teammates and they speak like you, very fast sometimes," he laughs. "It was difficult to understand in the beginning. So it was easier to understand the coach because he speaks like everyone in Holland. But now I'm getting used to that."

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Ruíz has found it "easy" settling in England

On the pitch, the culture shock was more drastic as he found the Barclays Premier League to be unforgiving.

"In the beginning it was difficult," he acknowledges. "I remember my debut here was one of my worst games. It was against Blackburn and I had trained only one time with the team, and I had the ball and right away there were three players on me. In Holland when you had some more space, some more time. So in the first months it was difficult but now I am used to that." Stoke, Saturday's opponents in the early kick-off, he diplomatically says will make for a "very interesting game".

Off the pitch, Philippe Senderos is credited for making it a serene transition. "He speaks, like six languages and Spanish as well - very good Spanish - and he still helps me sometimes so we're very good friends," the 27-year-old reveals.

Jol was Ajax coach in the 2009-10 season when Ruíz's Twente won the Eredivisie for the first time in the club's history under Steve McClaren. A KNVB Cup winner in his second full season, scouts working on behalf of English clubs became regular visitors at the Grolsch Fortress before Jol, named Fulham coach a year later than expected, acted swiftly to give his new squad some added panache.

Ruíz credits the Dutchman with persuading him to join the west London club.

"I came a day before the transfer window closed and I spoke to him. I had some doubts because I did not know a lot about Fulham, so he told me about how Fulham was, what they do as a team and to be honest I was impressed. I liked it, so I decided to sign."

The maverick frontline of 2011-12 has altered significantly, though. Pavel Pogrebnyak's fruitful loan switch was never made permanent, silky midfielder Mousa Dembélé departed for Tottenham for £15m and the prolific Clint Dempsey followed the Belgian to White Hart Lane.

Ruíz does however have a new foil in the mercurial Dimitar Berbatov. A player who unites all purists, irrespective of their allegiances, he is as big a hit with the attendants at the Cottage as his teammate.

"He's really good, his technique is really good," he enthuses. "Normally he never loses the ball so that's something good for your side and I like to play short [passing]."

And is he as enigmatic as former colleagues have suggested?

"Berba? Well he's..." There is a relatively lengthy pause as he considers an expression. "He's in his words, he doesn't talk too much but on the pitch he's trying to put everything in order and he's very intelligent."

Surprisingly, Ruíz has scored just five goals since his £10.6m move from Twente, so there's scope to elevate his game as he nears his peak.

"I still want to improve my right foot," he giggles. "Since I was a kid, I think. And try to help more with the head because in English football sometimes there are a lot of crosses."

Although goals have been scarce he has struck some beauties, most memorably against Everton and Bolton. Although it is the former which stands out as his favourite.

Says Ruíz: "It was my first goal for Fulham, and I think it was a very nice chip." But you lost the game, didn't you? "Yeah we lost in the last minute," he wistfully recalls.

Away from the Cottage, next year's World Cup is a chance to exorcise some demons should Costa Rica qualify for Brazil 2014. Aged 20, he was deprived of a squad berth for Germany in 2006.

"Not so good," he says when asked about the memories of his country's third World Cup. "I was on the list of 25 players and on the last list for 23 they had to put me out.

"We have a chance [of qualifying] because there are five teams and it's going to be harder, because you see Mexico drew against Jamaica, United States lost against Honduras and we rescued a point in Panama. It's going to be close."

Back to the present, there is no hint of looking beyond life away from the Cottage or London, which is quenching his cultural appetite as he continues "to learn a little bit" about the city's history.

And with that, he eases out of his chair and offers a warm handshake for some downtime ahead of one final training session ahead of Stoke's visit. Whatever the weather, the Costa Rican's class will always attract more than just the odd jogger on Stevenage Road.

Bryan Ruiz was speaking on behalf of Barclays Ticket Office. Every 90 minutes throughout the season, Barclays is offering fans the chance to win free tickets to Barclays Premier League matches by going to a Barclays ATM and requesting a receipt, or by visiting www.barclaysticketoffice.com