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Piero Hincapie: Leverkusen wonderkid dubbed 'South America's best young defender'

12:00 BST 29/10/2021
Piero Hincapie NXGN GFX
The 19-year-old shone at the Copa America for Ecuador before the Bundesliga outfit beat off strong competition to sign him for €6m over the summer

When Bayern Munich beat Bayer Leverkusen 5-1 in a top-of-the-table Bundesliga clash on October 17, it was seen as just another example of how big the gap is between the German champions and the rest.

What was largely ignored, however, was just how well Leverkusen had done to find themselves going toe-to-toe with Bayern in the early weeks of the campaign, particularly at the back.

The retirements of the Bender twins, Sven and Lars, and the departure of defensive leader Alesksandar Dragovic, left gaps for director of football Simon Rolfes to fill over the summer.

An injury sustained by 2020's breakout star Edmond Tapsoba has left them even more short-handed, but they went into that Bayern game having conceded just six goals in their opening six Bundesliga games – the second-best record in the league.

And had they not been without one of the new stars of their defence against Julian Nagelsmann's side, then Leverkusen might have been able to put up more of a fight against the Bavarians.

Piero Hincapie was forced to sit out the game having only just arrived back in Germany from representing Ecuador in World Cup qualifying, and given the teenager's record since his summer arrival at the BayArena, he could have been a difference-maker.

Leverkusen have not lost a match when Hincapie has been on the pitch this season, winning five of the seven games he has featured in following his €6 million (£5m/$7m) move from Argentina in August.

Some will say that keeping Robert Lewandowski and Co. at bay might have been beyond the 19-year-old, but Hincapie has shown in his career already that he has the capabilities to compete against some of the world's best attacking players.

Called-up as an uncapped player to Ecuador's Copa America squad, Hincapie was thrust straight into the starting line-up for his country's tournament opener against Colombia, and played every minute of their run to the quarter-finals.

Facing down the likes of Lionel Messi, Roberto Firmino and Vinicius Junior, the centre-back belied his lack of experience with some eye-catching displays.

"We have been watching him for a long time,” Rolfes said when Hincapie's move to Leverkusen was announced. “His very good performance against absolutely world-class players at the major continental tournament in South America confirmed our assessment that Piero has a very promising future."

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Hincapie's footballing education began at local clubs CS Norte America and Deportivo Azogues, before he was enrolled into Ecuadorian football's best youth academy at Independiente del Valle at 14 years old.

Hincapie stood out as a typical modern central defender, with his ability with the ball at his feet one of his strongest suits.

That was on show at the Copa America, where he played the most forward passes of any defender during the group stages (89), and demonstrated supreme calmness when in possession.

Despite standing at just over six foot tall (184 centimetres), he also possesses excellent strength in duels, even if he does have to work harder than some to win the ball in the air.

Hincapie made his professional debut for Independiente in August 2019, having earlier that year captained Ecuador to a fourth-placed finish at the Under-17 South American Championship.

He would make only two further appearances for his boyhood club, however, before being snapped up by Argentine outfit Club Atletico Talleres in the summer of 2020.

"He is the best young defender in Latin America," was the assessment of Talleres president Andres Fassi upon Hincapie's arrival, and given that status, it perhaps came as no surprise when the great and good of European football began sniffing around a year later.

Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and Atletico Madrid were all linked with moves for Hincapie before Leverkusen sealed the deal, signing him up to a five-year contract.

As well as impressing with his defensive talent, Hincapie has also already proven that he can be a threat in the attacking third after netting his first professional goal against Celtic in the Europa League in early October.

"Already in his last two or three appearances we noticed that he is totally resistant to stress in terms of atmosphere,” head coach Gerardo Seoane enthused after the game at Parkhead.

"He stayed very calm, had a good game resolution and won many duels. The goal was the icing on the cake, as it is of course not his main task."

For Hincapie, though, Leverkusen has the potential to be a stepping stone to him becoming a true household name in the future.

“I would like to play in Spain,” he told Futbolemico in an interview conducted while he was still plying his trade in South America. "(Until then) I have to go to smaller clubs to work my way to the top."

Leverkusen, one presumes, are one of those smaller clubs, and they are certainly less popular than a club such as Real Madrid, Barcelona or even Bayern.

But if Hincapie can maintain the performance levels he has shown in his first weeks with the club, then he could yet help lift them to challenging those European giants on a more regular basis.

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