Matt Scrafton column: Blackpool defender can be a future Premier League performer

I made a throwaway comment earlier this week that appeared to stir some debate.

Friday, 12th November 2021, 12:30 pm

After another colossal display from Marvin Ekpiteta during last week’s draw against QPR, I claimed I would not be surprised at all if the defender attracted interest from Premier League clubs during the January transfer window.

The general consensus appeared to be that now might be a year or two too soon for Ekpiteta, but that misses my point – which I couldn’t really express fully in a tweet limited to 280 characters.

So let me expand here…

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Ekpiteta is still only 26, which is relatively young for a centre-back.

A lot of clubs in the top flight, especially the newly-promoted ones like Brentford and Norwich City, are always on the lookout for players with potential. That’s the key here.

They adopt a similar approach to Blackpool, where they scour the lower leagues – and often abroad, too – for relatively unknown players they can coach and improve and, should the model work, sell on for a healthy profit two or three years down the line. Then the cycle repeats itself.

At no point did I say Ekpiteta was ready right now for the Premier League, although I don’t think he’s far off with the right development and pathway.

My point was a lot of clubs in the top division like to buy for the future and mop up the most exciting players.

To revisit the example of Brentford, not many fans would have thought Ollie Watkins was ready to be a Championship player after three years in League Two with Exeter City, eventually moving to London for £1.8m.

After a further three years of coaching and development with the Bees, plus exposure to a higher level of football, he was then sold on to Aston Villa for £28m and he’s since been capped by England.

Of course, it won’t always turn out like that, but that’s the method behind the model.

Some people seem to have taken my tweet too literally, perhaps getting the impression I was suggesting Ekpiteta is ready to be thrown right into the deep end up against Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Kane, Mo Salah et al.

Why can’t he make the step up? If he continues his current trajectory, it’s only a matter of time.

Is he the finished product? No, but who is? Are you telling me every centre-back in the top flight is the second coming of Paolo Maldini?

For those who say Ekpiteta has a mistake in him, name me a defender who doesn’t.

Harry Maguire is England’s first-choice centre-back, was brought to Manchester United for the princely sum of £75m and has been error-strewn in recent weeks.

Even Virgil van Dijk, arguably the best centre-back in the world, has his moments.

I’m not saying Ekpiteta is on the level of those two players, mind, but it helps illustrate my point that just because he makes the odd mistake, it shouldn’t stop him from becoming a top level player.

To use Brentford as the example for a third time, there are definite correlations to be made with their centre-back Ethan Pinnock.

He came through non-league just like Ekpiteta did, getting his grounding by making almost 160 appearances for Dulwich Hamlet.

His rise to the top was then a fairly rapid one, spending just one season with Forest Green Rovers before getting snapped up by Barnsley, who were yo-yoing between League One and the Championship at the time.

He caught the attention of Brentford, who then splashed out £3m to secure his services.

He’s played in all 11 of their Premier League games so far this season and has also been capped by Jamaica.

So I repeat, is Ekpiteta in the Premier League really that far-fetched?

He’s a superb defender. He was playing his football in non-league as recently as two years ago.

Since then, he’s made the step up to League Two, League One and, this season, the Championship with relative ease.

After a period of adaptation, I’ve no doubts whatsoever the former Leyton Orient man would fit right at home in the Premier League – not that I’m wishing him to leave Bloomfield Road.

Most would surely agree that Ekpiteta has been Blackpool’s player of the season so far this term. If not first, then second.

Considering the Seasiders are 10th in the Championship, a point off the play-offs, and have shown they can more than compete with the likes of Bournemouth and Fulham, is it really that much of a stretch to suggest he could cut it a level above?

Some might have doubted whether he could do it at the top end of the third tier when he moved to Bloomfield Road off the back of 32 appearances as a Football League player but here we are. He’s now excelling in the division above, too.

For now though, he’s absolutely fine working under Neil Critchley, who is the ideal man to oversee his development.

Partnering Richard Keogh is inevitably having a positive impact and you can see the impact the former Derby County man has had.

At some point though, whether it’s sooner or later, Ekpiteta will spread his wings and make the step up. I’m absolutely sure of it.

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