AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH
PROFILING HIS BEST ATTRIBUTES ASSESSING HIS FUTURE ANALYSING HIS STATS LEARNING ABOUT HIS STORY SO FAR
Manuel Domínguez speaks exclusively to highly-rated Bayer Leverkusen defender Piero Hincapié about Ecuador, Independiente del Valle, adaptaing to Germany, plus his style, idols and dreams.
Who is Piero Hincapié?
In 2022, everything in football happens faster than ever before. In the last century, we rarely saw players that, at 20 years of age, had established themselves amongst the elite of European football. Even less so if they needed to cross the Atlantic.
Nowadays, promising players from South America make the leap at a younger age and clubs and national teams begin to invest much earlier in those young prospects they believe are destined to become football stars.
That’s exactly what Piero Hincapié – born in Esmeraldas, a small coastal city on the northern tip of Ecuador – thinks when asked about his last year: “Even I can’t believe it’s been going so fast”.
A product of the esteemed Independiente del Valle youth academy, it has taken him less than a year to leave his country, explode in Argentinian football, establish himself as a regular for Ecuador at the Copa América, and announce himself as one of the breakout stars in the Bundesliga – all achieved within 12 months.
2022 has started well for him, too. He has settled in Gerardo Seoane’s starting line-up, one of the best Bayer Leverkusen teams of recent years, one that is likely to qualify for the Champions League. He is also firmly established in the Ecuador national team that is on course to reach the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Piero Hincapié appearing for Ecuador in CONMEBOL qualifiers
Copa América revelation and World Cup dreams
It is difficult to understand the current success of the 20-year-old without highlighting the work done with the national team by Argentine coach, Gustavo Alfaro. A winner of every title in his native country, including a Superliga with Boca Juniors in 2019, Alfaro decided in 2020 to take charge of one of the most promising generations of Ecuadorian football.
The likes of Piero Hincapié, Moisés Caicedo, Alan Franco and Gonzalo Plata – all products of the Independiente del Valle academy, no less – convinced Alfaro to shape a youth team with one dream in mind: to qualify for Qatar.
“He always tells us that he is not afraid to use young players and that shows us a lot of confidence and forces us to give 100%,” Hincapié says about his national team’s coach.
Six of Ecuador's starting line-up against Brazil played for Independiente del Valle youth teams: Moisés Caicedo, Piero Hincapié, Gonzalo Plata, Ángelo Preciado, Alan Franco (all under-23) and Carlos Gruezo. An up-and-coming club powering an up-and-coming national team.— Scouted Football (@scoutedftbl) January 27, 2022
The results are living up to that dream, so far. With two rounds of qualifiers to go, Ecuador are third in the CONMEBOL region, only trailing the superpowers that are Brazil and Argentina. Their fate is in their own hands; they control their own dream as they try to qualify for this year’s World Cup.
Uruguay, Chile and Colombia, historic traditional powerhouses of South American football, have not been able to better the performances of an Ecuador side that, owing largely to its young talent, has proved to be one of the most attractive teams in any association over the last 15 months. Piero Hincapié’s importance to the team became vital after he made his debut in the Copa América, something he himself describes as the greatest moment of his entire career.
“I was already in the dressing room and the coach told me that I was going to play. I didn’t believe it,” he said during our call. “I had been on the bench in the previous knockout games so I didn’t imagine I was going to start at the Copa América.
“He told me to enjoy it, to make the most of the experience I was going to have because it was something very nice. At the time it was a shock for me but at the same time it was the best memory I’ve had in my career.”
Starting every match of the tournament, Hincapié established himself as one of the best defenders during the group stage. It was only in a 3-0 defeat to eventual winners Argentina that things did not quite go to plan.
“Everything went wrong against them. The day after that red card, I was hurt. Really sad. However, it’s something you have to take in the best possible way. At the end of the day, a red card is part of football. I am not – and will not be – the last player to be sent off in a match,” Hincapié asserts.
He also emphasised the value of the support he received from family and former team-mates in order to get him through the bad moment: “Your family supports you and makes you realise all the good things. They and God helped me a lot after that. In the end, it’s a learning process and I’m a very young boy. With this kind of situation you have to keep learning.”
Now that the Copa América is long over, and with the crucial March fixtures on the horizon, Hincapié is only thinking about qualifying for the World Cup. “Right now, apart from Bayer, I’m only thinking about the two games in March to qualify for the World Cup. It’s in our hands and we’re really looking forward to it. It’s a dream”.
Piero Hincapié at Bayer Leverkusen’s BayArena
Bayer Leverkusen's call and adapting to Germany
Not long after his first taste of senior international football, Hincapié and his club CA Talleres, whom he joined in August 2020, began to receive interest from several European clubs. At 19 years of age, Hincapié was seen by many not just as a promising future prospect, but as a player that could help them in the immediate term too.
“One day, my agent told me that Bayer [Leverkusen] were interested and we arranged a video call. They presented the project to me and explained what they were looking for with me.
“I asked for some time to think about it, and to discuss it with my family. I wanted to make the leap to Europe, I wasn’t afraid, but it was an experience in a very different country and with the language problem, it wasn’t easy”, Hincapié explains. He also highlighted the strong commitment of Die Werkself to acquire his services.
“From the cooks to the team-mates, even those who prepare the pitch – everyone treats you very well and I’m very happy here, as if I were a son to them and that’s why I think my adaptation has gone very well. I’m very happy”
The coexistence of so many South American players in the squad was one of the key factors he assessed when considering Leverkusen’s proposal: “You notice that it is a club with a lot of South Americans and that means that if they go there and stay for many years [in the case of Chilean Charles Aránguiz and Argentine Lucas Alario] it is because they have to do things well”, he said.
“From the cooks to the team-mates, even those who prepare the pitch – everyone treats you very well and I’m very happy here, as if I were a son to them and that’s why I think my adaptation has gone very well. I’m very happy,” Hincapié says, as he extolls the “family” virtues of the club.
Beyond the day-to-day work with the squad, the cold weather and the language barrier are two obstacles that Hincapié does not forget: “Brother, the worst thing here is the cold (laughs). At the beginning I was also a bit shy with the language, but, little by little, I’m getting used to it. Everyone, even those who don’t speak Spanish, try to approach me. I don’t understand all the words, but well [I will], step by step”.
In terms of football, Hincapié has had to play in a league like the Bundesliga to understand the significant differences between the two continents: “The biggest change I notice is in the intensity. Here you score three goals and the team wants to keep attacking. ‘Come on, come on, come on!’ There is no pause,” he explains. “In South America, if you have a lead, you relax. Here we score three goals and they ask you to score ten.”
Independiente del Valle, Carles Puyol, and his style
If there is one thing that defines Hincapié’s game, despite being a centre-back, it is his willingness to get forward. He is a left-sided centre-back with an attacking inclination that likes to present as an outlet for the ball, something that comes naturally to him after his years in Ecuador.
Trained in the extremely successful academy of up-and-coming club Independiente del Valle, the most prolific academy in Ecuador currently, if there is one thing that is worked on there, it is the love of the ball: “In terms of football, the IDV school is always a lot of ball and little running in pre-season”, he chuckles.
In addition, his months at CA Talleres, with Medina as head coach, and especially his beginnings in football have shaped the eye-catching centre-back that Hincapié has become.
“I’ve always liked to play with the ball. When I started as a kid I played much more offensively, as a winger. I used to score a lot of goals. I was like Neymar, I didn’t dribble as much as him but I was a great goalscorer. I even took free kicks! Maybe that’s why I’m now a centre-back who likes to go forward,” Hincapié laughs.
“When we travelled by bus for seven or eight hours to play Independiente del Valle, I watched a lot of videos of Carles Puyol and Sergio Ramos.”
Hincapié has always had a keen eye for Spanish centre-backs. His idol is no other than Barcelona legend, Carles Puyol. “On Fridays, when we travelled by bus for seven or eight hours to play for Independiente del Valle, I watched a lot of videos of Puyol and Sergio Ramos,” he remembers.
“I watched the videos so I wouldn’t get bored on the bus and that’s when I realised that I really liked Puyol. He had a special way of playing, perhaps less technical than Ramos, but he was a leader and captain. One of the best centre-backs I’ve ever seen.”
Hincapié also reserved praise for another young South American centre-back who is making a name for himself: Cristian “Cuti” Romero: “My brother tells me I’m a lot like him, I like him a lot”.
Piero Hincapié scoring in the UEFA Europa League tie against Celtic
With Leverkusen, Hincapié alternates between centre-back and full-back, although he has no doubts that his best position is in the centre of defence.
“It’s the position I feel most comfortable in. I can give order to my team-mates and that’s something I like. It also gives me an outlet when it comes to playing the ball, much more than at full-back, always going back and forth,” he said. “When I play as a centre-back and move to full-back it’s very difficult for me to adapt. It’s very different to play facing the pitch than playing on the wing.”
“I haven’t done badly at full-back but I like playing at centre-back, although if the coach asks me to, I’ll give my best if I have to play at full-back,” Hincapié emphasised.
Centre-back or full-back, what is clear is that at the age of 20, Piero Hincapie has knocked down the door at Bayer Leverkusen and is already an established and highly-rated player in German football. A teenager who follows the mantra given to him by his coach in Ecuador, which allows him to play his best football and improve day by day: “Enjoy himself on the pitch”.
We’d like to extend a huge thank you to Piero for his time, and Bayer Leverkusen for their access. If you wish to report any of these quotes in any external platform, please credit Scouted Football and include a link to the original page.