Weekly Wonderkids: Episode 3

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One of Football Index’s unique attributes as a platform is that it allows traders to pick and choose which players to buy and sell, which to stockpile, and which to keep an eye on in the future. Traders can spot a promising footballer, buy stock in said player, and watch them flourish as the player’s profile grows on the world stage. If you truly believe that a teenage prospect who’s only registered a handful of substitute appearances will go on to become a Golden Boot winner, you have the power to put your money where your mouth is and add him to your portfolio.

Each Monday, Zach Lowy will analyze a new U-23 player who Football Index traders should consider buying in a new weekly series called “Weekly Wonderkids.” With this series, you’ll be able to discover which youngsters you should place your trust in – and money – and why.

Name: Pervis Estupiñan

Age: 21

Club: Osasuna (on loan from Watford)

Introduction

It has been somewhat of a paradoxical season for Watford, who currently sit bottom of the Premier League with nine points, seven points away from safety, and are currently scrambling to appoint their third manager in five months. 

In truth, while ex-manager Javi Gracia achieved perhaps the greatest season in the club’s 138-year history last time out, finishing 11th and advancing to the FA Cup Final, the signs of decay were obvious, with the Hornets’ form tanking after the Christmas period. Rather than rectify these gaping holes in the squad by signing guaranteed quality players, club owner Gino Pozzo went young and cheap, penny-pinching in several key areas and completely neglecting others. Four months into the season, they’re paying the price for their negligence. Barring a miracle, Watford will be playing Championship football at Vicarage Road next season.

Perhaps most damningly, while Watford’s starters have failed to muster anything but drab performances over the past few months, Watford’s loanees, playing overseas as their parent club attempts to sort out their work permit issues, have impressed abroad this season. One of these players is Ecuadorian left-back Pervis Estupiñán, who has been a fundamental reason why Osasuna currently find themselves in 10th place following their return to La Liga this year.

Discovery in South America

Between Richarlison, João Pedro and Jorge Segura, Watford’s scouts have reached far and wide in South America since the Pozzo family purchased the club in June 2012. Their first gem poached from this region, though, was Estupiñán, who made his first-team debut for LDU Quito just days after turning 17.

It didn’t take long for him to establish a starting spot for club and country, the player impressing for Ecuador in the 2015 South American U-17 Championship and the FIFA U-17 World Cup, and getting an early taste of international club competition in the Copa Sudamericana and the Copa Libertadores. Months after being selected in the best XI of the 2015 Ecuadorian Serie A season, Estupiñán joined Udinese, another club owned by the Pozzos, before being sent on loan to Watford. From there, he would head straight to Granada, which at the time was owned by the Pozzos as well, and yo-yoed between the B team and the first team until they sold their stake in the Andalusian club in the summer of 2017.

Successive loans at Almería and Mallorca followed, the player gaining valuable experience in La Liga and the Segunda, respectively. Thanks in part to his promising performances under Vicente Moreno, Mallorca ended up reaching the promotion play-offs, where they faced Albacete in the semifinals and Deportivo in the Final. Los Bermellones returned to the Primera after a 7-year-drought, but Estupiñán would continue his Spanish adventure in Pamplona, joining the reigning Segunda champions Osasuna.

Breakthrough at Osasuna

The Ecuadorian joined on a two-season loan to replace the departing Carlos Clerc, who joined Levante on a free. While he’s shot up in market value this season, Watford almost certainly won’t be able to either sell him or play him until 2021; they can only cut the loan short if Osasuna, currently 10th, get relegated.

When Estupiñan first arrived at El Sadar, he was still a raw prospect who needed to refine certain aspects of his game before he could flourish in Europe. A physically imposing, quick dribbler with a penchant for going forward and grabbing the occasional goal, but who still was too defensively fragile for the top level. Under the watchful eye of Jagoba Arrasate, though, Estupiñan has gradually rectified these shortcomings, making defensive errors much less of a recurring theme.

Just like in Mallorca, where he formed a promising pair on the left with Lago Junior, Estupiñan’s attacking tools have been a godsend for a Gorritxoak side that have leaned on him to provide width this season. He’s combining well with Rubén García and Chimy Ávila up top, and he’s also improving in his decision-making both on and off the ball; knowing when to cut in, when to go wide, when to back off, and when to step in. A restless workhorse up and down the flank, Estupiñan has become a Primera-caliber defender, using his muscle to wrestle off forwards and keeping rival attackers such as Fabián Orellana and Samuel Chukwueze in his pocket.

There have been certain times, such as when Athletic Club’s Iñaki Williams paid him an unwelcome visit last month, when it has seemed that he’s still too uncouth on the other side of the ball. But compare him to other gifted left-backs in the U-22 age group, such as Renan Lodi or Domagoj Bradarić, and he comes across as a relatively sturdy option in defense.

Having made his international debut in October, there’s a decent chance he’ll be in La Tri’s squad for next summer’s Copa América. He will be up against plenty of competition, though, with the likes of Diego Palacios and Gustavo Cortez battling it out for a roster place. The former, who was a revelation throughout Ecuador’s run to the semifinals of last summer’s U-20 World Cup, has started in three of the senior team’s first five matches this season. However, if Estupiñan keeps up his progression, Ecuador’s manager, whether that will be Jorge Célico or someone else, will have a selection headache come next summer.

Next big move?

While it seems a near-certainty that he will be playing in La Liga for Osasuna next season, Estupiñan’s future from the summer of 2021 onwards is far from secure. If his parent club is playing Championship football by then, it might behoove both him and Watford to agree to a sale, giving the club a chance to make a hefty profit and giving Estupiñan a chance to play in a top division. If not, then he’ll have the opportunity to do what José Holebas, Adam Masina, and Marvin Zeegelaar have failed to do this season: become a reliable left-back for Watford.

If he keeps progressing at this rate, there’s no shortage of teams who will be in for his signature. Leicester City will be following him closely as a potential Ben Chilwell replacement, while Sevilla and Borussia Dortmund could be interested as well, given the fact that Sergio Reguilón and Achraf Hakimi, respectively, will return from their loans next summer. Lyon, who have struggled to cope with the departure of Ferland Mendy, would do well to consider another bombarding, quick-footed full-back to upgrade on Youssouf Koné.

Less likely is a move to Barcelona, even if Junior Firpo hasn’t yet showed signs of taking the baton from Jordi Alba, or Chelsea, who, between the injury-prone Emerson and the frustratingly inconsistent Marcos Alonso, need to plug up one of their squad’s holes. But with time and patience, expect Estupiñan to emerge as one of the most promising left-backs on the market.

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