The step into European football has been at least four years in the making for Jose Cifuentes. His move to the continent will be followed by more on it.

Cifuentes earned his burgeoning reputation in Ecuador but established his name in America. A switch to Rangers will see his stock in the game rise once again as he embarks on a bid for further silverware successes and seeks to prove himself amongst the best at whatever level Michael Beale’s side find themselves at away from the Scottish game.

At 24, Cifuentes has his finest years and greatest achievements ahead of him. He will leave the land of big names and star attractions when he completes a move from Los Angeles FC and life in Glasgow will be another very different yet very beneficial experience for the midfielder.

It was in Poland where Cifuentes first came to the attentions of Keith Costigan. Over the last four seasons, the Irishman has watched with interest and at close hand as a player that he picked out as one with potential has gone on to realise his talents in Major League Soccer.

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Costigan is currently a commentator and analyst with Apple TV on their coverage of the American game. His first recollections of Cifuentes go further back, though, and he remembers an ‘outstanding’ midfielder, one full of power that could drive into space and press the opposition, during the Under-20 World Cup in the summer of 2019.

Ecuador would go on to finish third in the tournament as they suffered a last four defeat to a South Korean side that lost to Ukraine in the final. Cifuentes had already made his impact by that stage and his switch to LA followed six months later as he left América de Quito to open the next chapter in his career.

“I get the sense that from the Under-20 World Cup there were European teams interested,” Costigan said. “If you go back to that World Cup, he was one of the better midfielders in the tournament.

“I would say, if you look at his form this year, he has dipped. And one of the reasons for that, I think, is that he has been angsty to move on.

“They won the title last year, he played a big part in it, and then it was like ‘OK, now it is for the next step’. When a player doesn’t get that move, it tends to impact his overall form and this year I wouldn’t say he has been near the levels that he reached last year.

“I put that down to the fact that, for him, the work was done last year and it was about moving on now and taking that next step in his career. I wouldn’t read too much into the blip in form this year.

“The team itself hasn’t been as good and there is maybe a bit of a hangover after winning the championship. I definitely think there was a factor for Jose.

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“He wanted to move, he probably thought it was going to happen in January and didn’t. I would imagine he is absolutely buzzing to get over there and start his European journey.”

That path has taken Cifuentes from the poverty-stricken streets of Esmeraldas, a port city in the Northwestern region of Ecuador, to Ibrox. From humble beginnings, Cifuentes has been able to follow in illustrious footsteps.

Pervis Estupiñán of Brighton and Hove Albion and former West Ham United and Everton forward Enner Valencia hail from the same region and the sacrifices made in his childhood have seen Cifuentes become an inspiration thanks to his endeavours for club and country.

The Herald: Jose Cifuentes

A compromise with his mother ensured he maintained some degree of education while pursuing his love for the game and a move to Quito, the capital of Ecuador that was around six hours away from the family home, saw his career take off.

Cifu, as he is known to those closest to him, later graduated from the ‘Fútbol Estudio’ programme that was set up by Sociedad Deportiva Aucas and a private college to nurture the next generation of Ecuadorian players and people.

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It would take his performances in the World Cup to showcase his talents to a wider audience. When he became an integral component of the LA side that lifted the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup in 2022, Cifuentes was destined to continue his upward trajectory in the game.

Costigan ranks him as the best player in the best side during that campaign. Cifuentes now has the platform to raise his own bar once again after agreeing a four-year deal at Ibrox.

“I think he is one of those players that doesn’t shy away from the physical aspects of the game, which is an important element if you are going to go to Scottish football and a club like Rangers,” Costigan said.

“You are going to be a target for some of the other teams and they may not try and play football and look to sit back and defend. He has got a good mentality for those challenges, he doesn’t shy away from hard work in midfield.

The Herald: Jose Cifuentes in action for LAFC

“He played in a midfield three last year, for the most part, and I would say his best role within that was as an eight, one of those box-to-box midfielders that gives that energy and can join in the attack.

“From watching him as a younger player, when he gets there I think he could look to increase the number of goals he scores. That is a part of his game that is an area where he can improve and should improve given his ability to shoot from distance.

“I don’t see any issues in terms of the combativeness of him and what will be expected of him in the Premiership, on top of the quality he has as a full international.”

Cifuentes netted once during that campaign in Poland as he opened the scoring in the quarter-final victory over the United States. Costigan was calling the game alongside Brad Friedel on that occasion and recalls how both felt the South American would attract interest from European clubs sooner rather than later.

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It was seen as a coup for Los Angeles to complete a deal worth around £2million for the prodigious talent and another of Costigan’s counterparts behind the microphone is well aware of what awaits Cifuentes when he joins up with Beale’s squad in the coming days.

Maurice Edu, the former Light Blues title winner, is now a respected analyst of the game in his homeland and believes Cifuentes is well suited to the challenge he will embark on in Glasgow as Beale's side attempt to return Rangers to domestic prominence.

“I think he has grown as a player since we saw him at the Under-20 tournament,” Edu said. “His work rate on both sides of the ball and his ability on the ball allow him to be impactful when he is on the pitch and will suit what the SPL will demand out of him.

“Going to a massive club like Rangers will challenge him in a different way and mature his game even more and the opportunity to potentially play in European competitions will be something he relishes.”

Cifuentes is a player that has had his career plan mapped out for some time but is a person that has never forgotten his upbringing or those that have helped him get to where he is now. He visits the Fútbol Estudio students when he returns to Ecuador and is seen as a role-model for the way in which he has overcome the economic, cultural and sporting challenges that he has encountered on his route to Ibrox.

Beale spoke about Cifuentes being able to take Rangers to ‘another level’ as his side rounded off their Premiership and Champions League preparations with the draw against Hoffenheim on Saturday.

The Englishman has insisted his tenth acquisition of the summer is a long term project rather than quick fix at Ibrox. Cifuentes' career here will be defined by medals but his profile raises the prospect of Rangers reaping rewards off the park as well as on it.

“I would imagine, and from what I know of him as a player and having seen and heard him in interviews, that he is a very ambitious player,” Costigan said. “If you are a Rangers fan, you want someone that sees that journey continuing because if it continues it means that he has been really successful at Rangers.

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“I don’t know how quickly he will settle, that is one thing. He is coming from a different environment and it did take him a couple of months to get completely in tune here.

“LAFC were going through a turnover at the time but once Steve Cherundolo took over he became the main piece in that midfield and when he was given those chances in there he really excelled.

"The first month or so will be interesting to see how he does but I think over the course of a couple of seasons he is going to be a really smart pick-up for Rangers.”