He’s not young. Neither is he smooth, a refined artist on the ball with the technique of a midfielder. He probably won’t be linked with a transfer anytime soon and there’s a significant chance he may never play in European competition. In fact, he’s rather ungainly in look. He runs with his head stretched out in front of him and his stout frame scuttles along underneath it. All in all, Cadiz’s Alfonso “Pacha” Espino might not be a sexy player to talk about, but he is a full-back you can fall in love with.
Slamming on the breaks at full speed, Pacha never fails to win himself a yard with the ball. He looks so committed to the run, the cut looks so much like an emergency stop, that it gives him the ultimate element of surprise. This is not to disparage the Uruguayan – it’s relatively unique to most football pitches and enjoyable to watch too. The main function of the modern day full-back in attack, to provide the crosses, is an area he excels in too. In La Liga, only Jesus Navas, Johan Mojica and Fran Garcia have put more of them into the penalty area.
In style at least, he could be said to share something with his compatriot Luis Suarez. Neither look like they are particularly enjoying themselves on the pitch, rather it comes across as a desperate ordeal. Yet both are tremendously effective and deceptive in their quality.
There’s definitely something about him that evokes a feel of old machinery. Whether it’s a diesel motor or a steam engine is hard to decipher, but the idea that he is somehow charmingly different to the modern technology is inescapable. However, in terms of impact, the best comparison is the glory years of Marcelo. Inside or out, constantly arriving at the right moment, opposition managers have been forced tailor their plans to counter Espino in a Cadiz team chronically short on threat. Like the Brazilian before him, it’s hard to stop such a powerful runner once he is cascading onto you.
In contrast to Marcelo however, he doesn’t leave gaps to be exploited. “It’s not that we give him freedom, it’s that he has that freedom because he doesn’t create problems going the other way,” says his coach Alvaro Cervera. In comparison to his peers, he’s in the top 2% for pressures and the top 5% for interceptions across the big five leagues in Europe. Narrow those numbers down to La Liga and nobody has more blocks or tackles won.
What makes Pacha Espino so lovable though, is that typical Uruguayan garra charrua – that inimitable hunger to give everything to the cause. It’s that belief that led him to the seemingly impossible feat of out-sprinting Inaki Williams. Recently, Spanish program El Dia Despues caught Espino sharing a friendly chat with Mallorca captain Salva Sevilla after a match. “You look good,” Sevilla complements. Exhausted, “I’m about to die,” he pants back.
He might not look, sound or treat the ball like a modern footballer. But he’s as good as it gets in La Liga. A force of nature, for all the things that he isn’t as much as those he is, Pacha Espino is a full-back to fall in love with.