Quito, Mar 17 (efe-epa).- Ecuador is starting to gain recognition as a rich source of talent for soccer leagues abroad, a development driven in part by the greater attention clubs in the Andean nation have given to their youth academies and also by the country’s recent international success at the U20 level.
The number of Ecuadorian “legionarios,” as they are known locally, has grown in 2021 to more than 60, compared to 35 a few years ago. Players are also are emerging from the clubs’ youth teams at an increasingly young age.
Most recently, Premier League club Brighton & Hove Albion paid a transfer fee of around $6.2 million for midfielder Moises Caicedo, who at age 19 is seen as one of Ecuador’s most promising young stars.
Also in 2021, Jhon Jairo Espinoza and Angelo Preciado were transferred to the Chicago Fire of the MLS and Belgian club KRC Genk, respectively.
The growing depth of talent in Ecuadorian soccer stems from a multi-faceted approach that encompasses the physical, technical and psychological aspects of the game.
A prime example is Independiente del Valle, winner of the 2019 Copa Sudamericana and the U20 Copa Libertadores and a club that for years has been inspired by Spanish powerhouse FC Barcelona’s La Masia youth academy.
Sports journalist Sebastian Decker told Efe that Independiente is a club that has realized “how profitable it is to develop a player from the U12, U14 levels and get them to debut with the senior team … and later sell them for millions abroad.”
Some of the top prospects to emerge from that club’s Sangolqui High Performance Center have been Caicedo, Preciado and Argentine-born Alan Franco.
But replicating that success requires a high level of investment in youth academies that many clubs cannot afford.
Liga de Quito, the club that produced Pervis Estupiñan, who is now 23 and left Ecuador for English club Watford five years ago, is another successful case.
That player currently has the highest market value of any Ecuadorian at $16.7 million, followed by fellow left back Cristian Ramirez (a former Independiente player who now competes for Russian club Krasnodar) at $7.75 million.
Ecuador raised its profile internationally in 2019 with its victory at the U20 South American Championship and its third-place finish at the U20 World Cup, but it still has a ways to go to reach the level of more advanced soccer countries in the region such as Colombia and Uruguay, not to mention powerhouses Argentina and Brazil.
Esteban Paz, president of Liga de Quito’s soccer commission, told Efe that Ecuador has not yet taken steps to maximize player export and that the products of its system typically have difficulty adjusting to life abroad.
“It’s tough for many players to go to another country at a very young age and deal with adversity,” he said, referring to the high level of pressure and expectations they encounter abroad.
He therefore stressed the need for even greater emphasis on the well-rounded development of players.
Thus far, Ecuadorian players have enjoyed their greatest success in Mexico, with 20 of them now competing in that league, followed by seven in the United States and five apiece in Brazil and Argentina. EFE-EPA