Stuttgart - As whirlwind rises to the peak of international football go, the story of VfB Stuttgart teenager takes some beating.
Considered a hugely-promising talent in his native Ecuador just 12 months ago, the midfielder is now part of his country’s 23-man squad looking to make a splash at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
By most accounts, a 19-year-old standing at just 1.71 metres tall and weighing 67 kilograms should not be able to compete on a equal footing with seasoned players accustomed to the hardships of the professional game. That Gruezo is able to do so should perhaps come as no surprise, as he has been defying the odds throughout his career.
The Santo Domingo-born holding midfielder made his professional debut in his homeland for Independiente del Valle as a 16-year-old in 2011. His performances there quickly caught the eye of local powerhouse Barcelona SC Guayaquil, who signed him up a year later. Despite his youth, Gruezo became a regular in the starting line-up and went on to make over 70 first-team appearances over the next two seasons, winning the 2012 Ecuadorian championship in the process.
Baptism of fire
So far, so good for the youthful prodigy, but how would he cope at a higher level in the most competitive league in the world? The Stuttgart scouting department evidently believed they had identified qualities that would allow him to thrive and the club secured his services at the end of January 2014.
If moving house is considered one of the most stressful moments in life, imagine moving to a new continent with a new language, culture and climate as an 18-year-old. Gruezo took it in his stride, however, and just two months later had evidently settled down enough to warrant a place in the side. After briefly testing the waters against 1. FC Nürnberg on Matchday 27, coach Huub Stevens thrust Gruezo into the starting XI on Matchday 28 against no less a side than Borussia Dortmund.
Competing with the best
Gruezo was again unfazed by the challenge, completing 69 per cent of his passes in that game, winning 43 per cent of all his challenges and covering over 11 kilometres over the full 90 minutes. So impressive was his performance – the 3-2 defeat notwithstanding – that Gruezo remained in the starting line-up for the remainder of the 2013/14 campaign. Even more astonishing is the calibre of the opponent he jostled with in midfield: Stuttgart’s run-in included matches against five of the teams that finished in the top six: Dortmund, Gladbach, Schalke, Wolfsburg and FC Bayern.
Having been pivotal to Stuttgart’s Bundesliga survival, Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda had no hesitation in selecting Gruezo in the senior squad to travel to Brazil. The youngster may only have three full international caps to his name so far, but if his history of effortlessly rising to the occasion is anything to go by, Ecuador’s midfield will be in extremely safe hands.