It has been nothing short of a historic campaign for Brighton Hove & Albion. The Seagulls have qualified for Europe for the first time, securing Europa League football with two games to spare after beating Southampton 3-1. They have dazzled neutrals and fans alike with a scintillating brand of football, and they have done so whilst consistently being stripped of their assets by England’s richest clubs.
When Graham Potter left for Chelsea in September, they turned to Italian manager Roberto De Zerbi, who has led them to the greatest season in club history. When Yves Bissouma was sold to Tottenham Hotspur for £30 million last summer, they turned to an in-house replacement in Moisés Caicedo, who has emerged as a revelation in midfield. When Marc Cucurella was sold to Chelsea for an initial fee of £55 million rising to £62 million with add-ons, they turned to Caicedo’s compatriot — Pervis Estupiñán.
Born in Esmeraldas, Ecuador, Estupiñán 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 before being sent on loan to Watford — a club that, like Udinese, are owned by the Pozzo family. 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 seven-year drought, but Estupiñán would continue his Spanish adventure in Pamplona, joining the reigning Segunda champions Osasuna.
The Ecuadorian joined on a two-season loan to replace the departing Carlos Clerc, who joined Levante on a free. When Estupiñán 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, Estupiñán 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, Estupiñán’s attacking tools were a godsend for a Gorritxoak side that leaned on him to provide width. He linked up 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, he became a top-quality defender, using his muscle to wrestle off forwards and keeping rival attackers such as Fabián Orellana and Samuel Chukwueze in his pocket.
He made his international debut in October 2019 and would emerge as a revelation for Osasuna, who finished 10th in the table. Upon returning to Watford in the summer, he neglected to spend the season in England’s second tier, and with 12 months remaining on his contract, demanded a transfer away from Vicarage Road.
With Alberto Moreno sidelined for six months after rupturing his ACL in preseason, Villarreal took it upon themselves to bring Estupiñán back to the Spanish top flight and paid an initial fee of £15 million for him. An athletic, technically sound left back who marauds up the flank with pace and panache and can deliver a deadly cross like few others, Estupiñán would excel under Unai Emery as Villarreal finished seventh and won the UEFA Europa League for the first time in club history.
He continued his progression the following season as Villarreal finished seventh and reached the Champions League semifinals, before heading to Brighton Hove & Albion and signing a five-year contract with the club in August. He has emerged as a regular at left back under De Zerbi, chipping in 1 goal and 6 assists in 33 appearances and playing the full 90 in each of Ecuador’s three World Cup matches in last year’s tournament.
At 25 years of age, Pervis Estupiñán has solidified his case as one of the best left backs in England and an indispensable figure at the Amex. Capable of charging up the byline, making a piercing overlapping run and linking up with Kaoru Mitoma down the left, whilst never shirking away from his defensive duties, he is very much the iteration of a modern left back. He’s a tireless worker, a pinpoint crosser, and a reliable defender, and after Cucurella, Bissouma, Ben White and many more, he could just be the next Brighton player to earn a big move.
By: Zach Lowy / @ZachLowy
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Justin Setterfield / Getty Images