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LDU Quito – Wearing The White Shirt With Pride

As the surprise winners of this year’s Copa Libertadores, Liga Deportiva Universitaria (LDU) Quito will be representing South America in the FIFA Club World Cup, which will be held in Japan between 11 and 21 December.
Quito has finally become famous in South America, and internationally, for something” other than being the city in “the middle of the world”, located at an altitude of more than 2,800 metres above sea level. It is no longer known only as the mountainous city with a modern feel and a lovely colonial old town with beautiful vestiges of the past. No longer is it just the place with such an unusual airport, sandwiched between two mountains. For today, Quito is also famous as the home of this year’s Copa Libertadores champions – LDU – and the first Ecuadorian team to have lifted the much-coveted trophy. In a dreamlike turn of events, their vertiginous rise to the top in the first half of the year has propelled them to their first-ever appearance in Japan to play in the FIFA Club World Cup 2008.
A few months have passed since the legendary game at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Jainerio and LDU’s historic win over Fluminense, and they are still basking in the glory of that achievement. Despite the fact that there have been some changes since then, and some key players have been lost, the team’s spirit and self-belief have not been dampened.
Lacking the tradition of the major South American teams, and without any star players, LDU Quito earned their place in Japan fair and square. They remain true to their style – they always endeavour to play good football, wearing down their opponents — and have one outstanding feature: character, personality. This charactet was evident throughout the Libertadores tournament, when they survived challenges at particularly difficult stadiums, such as San Lorenzo, the Azteca and the Maracana, and overcame moments of extreme pressure.
“This was inconceivable when I arrived at the club; we’re all still surprised by it. The club has been working towards this since its inception, but we never knew if we could achieve it. Some members of the management have been here their whole careers, and you should have seen them — they were so overwhelmed, they shed tears of joy,” explains the Argentinian coach Edgardo Bauza. Indeed, LDU, who have their roots at the city’s Universidad Central, where the victory was celebrated, as it happens, finally gave the extra push to make it to where they are today. Unusually, some members of the university staff are involved in running the club, and the club’s chairman, Carlos Arroyo, is actually also the president of the university. He says, confidently: “LDU shares the same values of liberty, fraternity and, above all, dignity, as its alma mater, the university.”
These days LDU are obviously the best team in the country, having achieved so much at both the national and, lately, international levels, and this is something that has not been matched by archrivals Barcelona SC. Before this latest feat, LDU attracted attention in the championships because of their attitude going into matches, and because they played attractive attacking football and put on a good show. The club was also honoured to have coaches of the calibre of Manuel Pellegrini {now at Viliarreal), Juan Carlos Oblitas (a Peruvian legend) and Jorge Fossati (former coach of Uruguay). They were also lucky enough in the last ten years to have local players the likes of Ulises de la Cruz, Nelson Reasco, Edison Mendez, Carlos Tenorio and Ecuador’s World Cup goalkeeper Cevallos (and still the national team’s goalkeeper), Joffre Guerron (sold to Getafe), and Enrique Vera (from Paraguay, now playing for Mexican side America). The club’s squad also continues to include experienced players such as Patricio Urrutia and legends Tin Delgado and Franklin Salas, even if they no longer play the starring roles. The fact chat no player earns more than USD 200,000 a year makes the club’s achievements all the more impressive.
There is no doubt that this is LDU’s crowning moment, having reached the prestigious FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, where they will wear their white shirts with pride. To win the Copa Libertadores and achieve so much at national level, the club had to count on a strong institutional framework and first-class infrastructure. “It is all amazing: we train at one of the best complexes, we have all the necessary top-class facilities to be able to concentrate and play,’ says Bauza proudly. Indeed, LDU’s outstanding training ground was used by Chile in October prior to their match against Ecuador in the South-American qualifiers. The club’s headquarters, the Country Club, located in Pomasqui on the outskirts of Quito, are another source of pride for LDU and their fans: there ate ten football pitches, several tennis courts,
a swimming pool, and even a school and a well-developed social scene, which forms the backbone of the institution.
Just as Bauza and the players will go down in the annals of football for having won the Copa Libertadores, one man will always be associated with LDU as a key figure in the club’s development. The man in question is Rodrigo “Negro” Paz Delgado, who started out as “deputy chairman of the board back in ’54,” when he attended a meeting convened by a friend. “We were at the bottom
so often, we were relegated, but I was always patient. LDU is one of the great loves of my life and I have spent many years dreaming of this. We are at the top now, but it is not always the case, and you have to learn to deal with both – the glory and the defeat. I always prefer to remain calm,” says the 74-year-old club legend, with his dark skin, wrinkled face and white beard, who was also the driving force behind one of the club’s gems: the Casa Blanco, stadium.
Does it have anything to do with Real Madrid? No. As mayor of Quito, Paz, together with the football authorities, propelled the development of a modern stadium with a capacity of 55,000 and all modern conveniences, which was inaugurated in March 1997. “The truth is that there were some visionary people, like Rodrigo and Raul Vaca, who converted it into a great club,” says Paz. There is no doubt that LDU are more than just a team, more than just the South American champions — LDU stands for respect for convictions and for well organised work. The success that LDU are enjoying today is the result of many years of hard work.
One player who has experienced the transition is the veteran Patricio Urrutia, the team captain, who expresses his satisfaction and shows his winning ethic: “I never imagined that all this could happen back a: the beginning of 2003. Winning three national championships and the Copa Libertadores, and on top of that being captain and getting to lift
up the cup. And now that we’ve made it this far, my dream is to lift the Club World Cup. We could do it – it’s there for the taking. We want to carry on making history. You have to mentally prepare for such major challenges.” The winger recalls that he has already been in Japan once with the Ecuadorian national team, and acknowledges that, as a result of transfers and injuries, the side LDU will put forward in Japan is not the same as the one that won the Copa Libertadores, “but we have to get back to our earlier form, because this is a massive opportunity. Playing in the final against Manchester United, for example, would be a dream. We are very excited and please God we can do it. We will start the tournament very motivated; we know that participating in the Club World Cup is a big responsibility and we want to win our first match and, who knows, we might play Manchester United – the big contenders – in the final”.
This trip to Japan will be a milestone in the club’s history. Although, of course, rather than focussing solely on the competition and his objectives, the coach Bauza wants to adopt a different philosophy while he endeavours to rebuild the team, which includes Ecuador internationals such as Jose Cevallos, Urrutia, Paul Ambrosi, Luis Bolanos and Campos. “Taking part in the FIFA Club World Cup is a privilege for me as coach, and I even rejected other offers to do it. I don’t know if God will grant me another chance again. I remember an interview with Hector Cuper, in which he told the story that he was sitting on the bench, he took a look around and only then did he realise that he was in the finals of the Champions League. So I am going to try to enjoy it more than I did the Copa Libertadores. Becoming South American champions was incredible for LDU. Nothing will stop me dreaming of playing Manchester United, but I want to enjoy it. You have to enjoy it.”

For more info, please visit the website of LDU Quito