Antonio Valencia's Life Story Is One Of The Most Inspirational You'll Ever Read
"What he's done in his life is just exceptional and I've got total admiration for him." - former teammate Kevin Kilbane.
From picking up glass bottles in the streets of Ecuador to playing in front of 75,000 people at Old Trafford, the story of former Manchester United full-back Antonio Valencia is like no other.
Growing up in Ecuador, a young Valencia and his two brothers would search the streets for glass bottles.
His father would then sell on the bottles to a deposit. Times were tough, but that didn't stop the youngster from trying to realise his dream of becoming a footballer.
While he would assist his mother selling drinks at the local football stadium, Valencia would play bare footed next to the bungalow he shared with his parents, five brothers and sister to try and improve his skills.
Eventually, after a huge amount of hard work, his big break arrived aged 11.
He was scouted by Pedro Perlaza after he spotted Valencia playing on a dusty field near his home, and signed him to the local team.
Although only being 14, he was pitted against 18-year-olds and still managed to shine.
Perlaza, his first coach, said: "He imposed his leadership on the group despite the age difference."
Two years later he was offered the chance to play for Ecuadorian side El Nacional.
When he left for Ecuador's capital in a bid to impress his first professional club, it was a big moment in his life but he kept it from his father:
"I didn't tell my father because I knew he wouldn't let me go," Valencia confessed.
"It was the first time I ever left. I was nervous because I didn't know where I was going to sleep or where I was going to eat. But, if you have a dream and you want to make it come true, that is what you do."
He may not have told his father at the time, but his mother and elder brother knew about his decision.
They paid his bus fare for the eight hour journey and in the meantime, he was paid 60 dollars a month to play for El Nacional.
"When I first got here [to El Nacional], I remember they gave me some white adidas boots. They were incredible!" Before then? "Nothing - just plimsolls and they broke and that would be it." Valencia said via Manchester United's official website.
"You would keep playing anyway."
It was an incredible achievement for a young boy who was determined to achieve success for his family.
15 years on from his first professional club, Valencia has played for the likes of Villarreal, Recreativo and Wigan Athletic but his time at Manchester United is by far his greatest achievement.
"I am proud of the job I have done." Valencia said.
The 33-year-old returned to Ecuador at the end of the 2018/19 season to join LDU Quito on a free transfer.
He spent 10 hugely successful years at Manchester United, winning the Premier League among other titles.
An incredibly inspired journey to the top.
Featured Image Credit: Manchester United.com