Vamos los Pibes: Renato Tapia
ARTICLE FIRST FEATURED ON OUTSIDE OF THE BOOT
Peruvian football is currently in the process of ushering in a new generation under the stewardship of national team boss Ricardo Gareca. A third place finish at last year’s Copa America – all the more impressive given the lack of pre-tournament preparation – hinted at a sign of things to come for Los Incas as they look to qualify for a first world cup since 1982.
Experienced stars Jefferson Farfan, Paolo Guerrero and Juan Manuel Vargas may be reaching the final phase of their international careers but the squad now contains an emerging batch of exciting youngsters. Christian Cueva, Carlos Ascues, Yordy Reyna, Andre Carrillo and Christofer Gonzales, all yet to turn 25, are regulars for la Blanquiroja and the U20 squad has a number of interesting prospects who could make the step up in the near future.
However, the one player who appears to be a cut above the rest is young defensive midfielder Renato Tapia.
Who is Renato Tapia?
Born in Lima on 28th July 1995, Tapia began playing football with Colegio San Agustin before moving to the Sporting Cristal youth divisions as a nine-year-old. A couple years later he swapped Cristal for the renowned academy Ester Grande de Bentin where he would spend the remainder of his youth development while in Peru.
Named one of the country’s best young players at “La Noche de Estrellas” awards ceremony in 2009, Tapia was beginning to gain some recognition and, still only 15, was the youngest player called up to the Peru U17s for the 2011 Sudamericano, where he put in some mature displays that boosted his reputation further. That year, shortly after turning 16, Tapia also went on trial at Liverpool, only for the Anfield club doctors to deem that he wouldn’t reach the requisite height of 190cm for a centre back.
Liverpool were keen to have him back to trial as a midfielder but by this point the possibility of joining FC Twente had arisen and Tapia signed a four-year deal that would see him join the club in the summer of 2013 once he had turned 18. Incorporated into the Twente’s reserve team, second division side Jong Twente, Tapia made 19 appearances in his debut season, scoring once.
At international level, Tapia was continuing to impress too. At the U20 Sudamericano in 2013, he was one of the standout performers as Peru narrowly missed out on qualification to the U20 World Cup in Turkey later that year. Former national boss Sergio Markarian was suitably impressed enough to call the teenage Tapia to train with the senior team.
Having cut his teeth with Jong Twente, Tapia was swiftly promoted to the Tukkers first team ahead of the 2014-15 season. He made his Eredivise debut as a substitute against SC Cambuur and slowly became a regular fixture in the Twente midfield, featuring in 20 games and scoring five goals.
An international debut against Venezuela at the tail end of March followed but injury cruelly ruled Tapia out of the 2015 Copa America. Nevertheless, el Cabezon has virtually been an ever-present since, featuring in three of Peru’s World Cup qualifying games, with a man-of-the-match performance in his first competitive start for Los Incas in their 1-0 win against Paraguay.
Receiving the ball on the right from Advincula, Tapia swivelled, taking two men out of the game, and drove towards the goal. Although his initial shot was blocked, he immediately won the ball back, evaded a challenge with some good footwork, and poked it on to Guerrero who laid on the assist for Farfan. The goal gave Peru a first win and clean sheet in qualifying with Tapia making an important contribution at both ends.
Style, Strengths and Weaknesses
Tapia’s potent mix of power and technique, of physicality and grace, makes him a very versatile player. In his short career he has already featured at centre back, defensive and central midfield, as well as occasionally cropping up in almost a number 10 role. Though his strength, aerial ability and defensive capabilities saw him excel in the centre of defence, it is his tenacity, ability to carry the ball forward and dribbling that suggest that a holding or box-to-box midfield role is probably the position he is best suited to.
Former national team boss Sergio Makarian was quick to point out Tapia’s strength and fearlessness from a young age. Unafraid to go in hard and mix it with seasoned pros like Guerrero and Pizarro, Tapia quickly made a great impression on Makarian who, like current boss Gareca, noted him as a key cornerstone for the future of the national team.
Besides his physical toughness, his strong mental attributes are also apparent from the way he has worked hard to progress through the ranks at Twente when opportunities weren’t handed to him straight away. Many young Peruvians have made the early move to Europe and not adapted – Reimond Manco is one such example – but Tapia’s professionalism, confidence and dedication have seen him persevere and now he is reaping the rewards.
Committed in the challenge, a powerful runner but with the composure, vision and skillset to initiate attacks and bag a few goals himself, there is a shade of Arturo Vidal about the all-action Tapia, though he has also been favourablu compared to Victor ‘Conejo’ Benitez, who played for several clubs in Italy in the 1960s. Tapia has 6 goals in 32 appearances at the time of writing, a good ratio for a principally defensive midfielder which shows he can be a useful attacking weapon, especially in the air from set pieces and with shots from distance.
Tapia often favours good, accurate long balls, which can be effective when playing for direct, counter-attacking sides. However, his passing is an area that could use some work. According to WhoScored, his average passing statistics usually sit somewhere between 70-75% and needs to improve if he is to become a top level midfielder, while his tracking back could be another element of his game to look at.
For a young defensive player who likes to block and tackle, he inevitably runs the risk of giving away too many fouls. Part of this can be put down to inexperience but he must learn when to curb his eagerness to go to ground or overexhuberance in the challenge. With time, he should learn to channel this aggression and the fact he has picked up very few cards does bode well. On the flipside, his comfort in possession and dribbling skills means he also wins plenty of fouls for his team.
Finally, given his aforementioned propensity to dribble and play the ball on the ground, there is the occasional danger of losing the ball in dangerous areas. This fact probably lends weight to the argument that Tapia is best suited as a defensive midfielder as any errors would be less costly than if he were in the last line of defence. Either way, Tapia must ensure that his versatility remains a string to his bow rather than a barrier to progress.
Tapia has all the makings of a future Peru captain. At the very least, he is surely going to be a key piece in Gareca’s new look Incas, most probably as the shield in front of the defence with the added licence to break forward, as well as offering the option of a makeshift centre back if needs be. His unflustered displays and strong personality have seen him ease into the international set up seamlessly already and, with an exciting generation emerging, could help restore Peru to somewhere close to their former glories.
At club level, Tapia has maintained solid performances for a struggling Twente side dogged by off-field financial issues. Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t taken long for other teams in Europe to wake up to Tapia’s talent. Porto, ever the canny operators when it comes to South American talent, were rumoured to be interested but all the talk is that Feyenoord will look to take advantage of the situation at Twente and swoop for the Peruvian. At a reported €2mil, Tapia would represent a huge bargain for the Rotterdam outfit. Long term, Tapia has always stated his dream to play in the Premier League and you would think that his attributes would make him a good fit.
Whether a move comes sooner or later, Tapia is on the course to become a highly impressed all round midfielder and, with the Copa America Centenario in the summer, 2016 could be the year that launches him to the next level.