Piero Hincapié: A Star of Ecuador’s Golden Generation by Adam Khan
Bayer 04 Leverkusen have a rich and illustrious history of promoting South American talent on the continent.
Since the signing of Brazilian youngster Milton Queiroz da Paixão – known as Tita – in 1987, Die Werkself have grown a reputation for providing a landing spot for various cross-Atlantic stars looking to build a career in Europe.
The likes of Paulo Sérgio, Jorginho, Lúcio, and Zé Roberto all featured for Leverkusen before lifting the World Cup with Brazil, while Renato Augusto, Diego Placente, and Arturo Vidal went on to enjoy impressive careers after making their first steps in Europe with the club from West-Germany.
Even in the current Leverkusen set-up, there is a clear stamp of South American heritage.
4 players in the 28-man squad hail from South America, not to mention assistant manager, Sebastián Parilla, who was born in La Plata, Argentina.
As so often, there is a Brazilian talent – this time coming in the form of Olympic gold medalist Paulinho (22) – but it is another player born south of the Equator who is truly grabbing headlines at the BayArena.
20-year-old Piero Hincapié, signed as a teenager from Club Atlético Talleres in 2020, has taken to the demands of German football with ease.
Though many foresaw him struggling for first-team minutes given that he had contested just one full season in the Argentinian topflight, the Ecuadorian international has shattered any and all expectations with stellar performances in his first season at Bayer Leverkusen.
Only 5 teenagers – Jude Bellingham, Joško Gvardiol, Joe Scally, Armel Bella-Kotchap, and teammate Florian Wirtz- earned more minutes in the 2021/22 Bundesliga, and the left-footed defender has only raised his standing even higher in his second full season.
At the time of writing, Hincapié has started 13 of Leverkusen’s 18 matches in all competitions, including every minute in the Champions League groupstage.
His ability to feature in multiple positions in the backline, and the fact that he is the only left-footed centerback available, make him a constant option for the management, but more than anything, Hincapié’s consistency and reliability give him an edge amongst the stark competition.
As one would expect from a 20-year-old who already has 37 appearances in the Bundesliga and 20 for his national team, Hincapié plays with far more maturity than most players in his age bracket.
Though the Bundesliga is a division that welcomes young talent, it is ultimately still a results business, and Hincapié has hit upon a style that perfectly suits the intense demands and pressures of modern football.
Saving the highlight-reel moments for Leverkusen’s star-studded attack, Hincapié is a relatively safe operator in possession. The Ecuadorian is a primarily short-passer – averaging the most short passes (per 90) in the Leverkusen squad – and completing these at an impressive 91.4% of the time.
This same aversion to risk is highlighted in the passing options he provides for teammates.
Whether in an attacking fullback role or as part of Leverkusen’s centerback pairing, Hincapié positions himself well to ensure that his teammate’s pass reaches its target. Of the 479 times that a Leverkusen player attempted to pass to Hincapié this season, 465 reached their target- a 97.1% success rate!
By simplifying his game both in and out of possession, he not only reduces the chances of a suicidal turn-over in the defensive third, but he also raises the chances that both his teammates and manager feel comfortable relying on him in matches of significant magnitude.
In defensive phases, Hincapié is a front-footed and aggressive defender.
As a centerback he is willing to push out of his position and seek out danger in the midfield third, and as a fullback, he is often pressing high up the pitch to create numerical advantages against opposition fullbacks and wingers.
The data once again highlights this. Hincapié attempts the second most tackles and pressures amongst all defenders in the Leverkusen squad, but the numbers also show how the Ecuadorian international remains effective despite the high volume of duels he enters.
No Leverkusen player has made more successful tackles and interceptions in all competitions, while in the previous Bundesliga campaign, Hincapié’s combination of high-volume and successful defending was even more effective.
The then teenage talent not only completed the second most pressures of any defender in Die Werkself’s 2021/22 Bundesliga squad, but his success percentage of 43.3% was the 4th best in the entire German top-flight.
With a safe approach in possession, and an aggressive and effective demeanour against the ball, Piero Hincapié has developed into an undroppable figure for Gustavo Alfaro’s national team, and Xabi Alonso’s Bayer 04.
Following a solid World Cup campaign in which Hincapié featured in every available minute for the Ecuador national team, more and more top clubs across the continent have become privy to the South American talent owning his craft in West Germany.
With countless clubs in England desperate to bolster their defence – and Tottenham Hotspurs even placing a bid in the region of €38.5m – it seems like only a matter of time before this once uncovered gem becomes a shining diamond on the biggest stage.