At just 20 years of age, William Pacho became one of the most interesting and promising signings of Royal Antwerp last season, following a quality professional debut campaign with Ecuadorian team, Independiente del Valle — probably the best team in Ecuador in terms of youth player development. The Belgians didn’t hesitate to sign him but gave him half a season to adapt to the Belgian Pro League. After only three games and six months of preparation for the 2021/22 campaign, Pacho has finally arrived.
Close to turning 21 years old now, Pacho has transformed into one of the cornerstones of Mark van Bommel’s Royal Antwerp that has started the season rampant, dominantly winning nine from nine league games. The excellent and shocking start of his team in the Belgian top division couldn’t be taken into account without his display in all nine games that he has started and contributed to the team with his quality skills.
This performance has gotten him called up to the Ecuadorian national team for the first time, two months before the World Cup 2022 in Qatar. The evolution of Pacho has been very quick and exciting. No one expected him to be the starter alongside Toby Alderweireld this season, producing in the manner that he has.
Pacho’s a very tough defender, physically and mentally. At 6’1” tall, Pacho possesses all you want in a defender when talking about physical aptitudes. Mentally, his concentration is one of the keys to his game. He’s careful to cover his back, jump out of his line and make rigorous actions to help his team out from the back. Also, he’s very committed and disciplined. He can go and help his teammates when they are in a risky situation, but he makes it without a foul, timing his attempts perfectly.
Royal Antwerp like to play a possession-based style of football with a very high line giving full responsibility to the centre-backs on the ball during the build-up phase.
Normally, Pacho is a very solid player when he has to jump out of his line and intercept a pass. In fact, this is the best part of his defensive skills. Not everyone has this capacity to go out and intercept an incoming and dangerous pass to a striker or an advanced player. William has the right timing and judgement to go and make a great interception.
As we can see below us, Pacho made a good interception, blocking a pass that was going to turn into a key one if the Ecuadorian hadn’t been there to force the turnover and stretch his long leg to block a brilliantly executed pass.
When defending his box, although the first-division leaders aren’t constantly threatened in these areas, because of their top and composed rest-defence, Pacho does a great job of keeping out the chances the other sides try to create against them. He has the intelligence to wait for precisely the next pass/cross and clear it to a corner or out of the defence. Aerially, he almost wins every duel; even if he’s pinned by a striker and needs to be very strong, powerful and smart to win it — it’s not a problem for him. In him, Antwerp have a safe player that can be so difficult to go and dribble past or drag out of his zone. He’s what strikers would call a very annoying defender to play against.
Above, we can see his penalty box awareness, as his team was in a very threatened position, but he tracked back the movement of the wider player and positioned his body perfectly to wait for the delivery, and send the ball for a corner-kick.
The key to this Royal Antwerp side is the collective way they move and cover everyone on the pitch. As a very mature character on the team, he ensures to cover for his teammates. When a full-back advances into the attack, he has the ability to go and cover the spaces left open by them and clear out the threat. He’s not a defender who waits and times runs or orientates to tight spaces, but he makes decisions in a very agile way and likes to win it back properly or clear it all to the other side of the field.
Forwards are always trying to run in behind the last line of the defence, and Pacho is extremely attentive with these kinds of runs. It’s very difficult to catch the 20-year-old out with these kinds of runs because of his intelligence to recognize these types of situations. When a lofted ball is sent by the rival team, and a forward is making the run, he’s already in a better position, ready to steal the ball and make the right decision.
Below, we see an example of what he offers when playing against a high block. The ball is delivered from the back, the forward is looking for the long ball in a wide position, Pacho has recognized his opponent, and comes back to defend with impressive pace, arriving first with space and time to safely pass the ball back to the goalkeeper.
In transitions from attack to defence, William’s very committed to running back with all his strength and stamina. In every attacking corner-kick, you can see Royal Antwerp man running back to stop the counter-attack, and the Ecuadorian is the first to accelerate and stabilise the defensive line, as he’s quite a pacey defender. Even in isolated plays, where opponents find the space to make these quick transitions, Pacho is going to come back rapidly and help his team.
William Pacho, left-footed, has shown good abilities and safety when he’s in possession of the ball. Royal Antwerp’s desire to build up from the back isn’t that vertical when talking about centre-backs. In fact, they want to attract the opposition pressure with lots of passes between Alderweireld and the Ecuadorian, to then progress the ball to the wing, with their full-backs to accumulate opponent players in these zones, and free spaces through the middle.
So when Pacho’s on the ball, it’s almost automatic. His movements are the same in every build-up phase; he waits patiently for the first line of pressure to come, before then turning and passing it to the left-back, who almost every time is a little bit closer to him on the build-up, as he joins to make a back-three. This shows that the Ecuadorian is a very diligent player within the tactics of his manager. If Mark Van Bommel wants these moments to be like that, and not risk line-breaking passes from the back through the middle, he hears it and does it as the manager wants it. Below, we can see these lateral passes that offer progression to the team in the build-up.
You can also confirm this tactical intelligence and maturity from Pacho by reviewing his stats from past years in Ecuador or in the CONMEBOL Libertadores, where the difference is very wide: this season, he is registering 4.21 passes to the final third per 90, while In South-American competitions, he recorded 8.05 passes to the final third per 90 — almost doubling the stat. Therefore, Pacho can be a top player to speed up build-ups in direct attacking teams, or in possession-based sides that like to attract and break through the middle. However, of course, you’ve got to do what the coach asks of you.
The picture above illustrates to perfection what is he capable of: a clinical pass from the back to find his winger, that has seen the free space, ready to receive, turn and transform the calm and patient possession to attack.
Under pressure, he shows some very relaxed body language and always finds the best option to escape from attackers. He frees the ball very quickly from his feet, as he doesn’t show a tendency to do long retentions with the ball. Pacho’s not the kind of centre-back that is going to dribble past an opponent and escape these situations alone. He does not have this skillset in his playing style, but still, he solves these tough moments with simple and good passing decisions, aiming to give it to the closest free teammate.
Below we see two pictures, where in both actions he’s solving high-pressure moments. The first one was a 1v1 battle, where the striker pulled the trigger and went full speed to try and steal the ball from him. Pacho passed to his left-back, which was a sensible choice. Then you can see him receiving a back pass, also from his left-back, making a turn, feinting to go to the right before going to the left and, once again, finding his full-back.
As also requested by Van Bommel, he doesn’t make progressive runs to help his team beat the pressure. This is another risky situation avoided by the Dutch coach, but an ability that Pacho demonstrated back in Ecuador. Again, if you review his metrics, he’s registering 0.28 progressive runs per 90 this campaign, but taking a look at his stats from when he was playing in South America, it’s an astonishing difference — 1.91 per 90.
Pacho’s a very solid defender, good in the air, committed and mature for his age. Also, a safe option in possession and even could be a great player in a more vertical team when playing out from the back, but he has areas to get better, as every player has.
Defending could be tough to find weaknesses in his game, and it really is. Because he does everything with incredible precision and discipline which could see him occasionally make a perfect game, without mistakes that could compromise his team.
Even so, William has to start making better tackles. When strikers pin him outside his line, they easily defeat him because he doesn’t try to tackle them. It seems like he doesn’t do it for fear of making a mistake or a foul. Sometimes, you can see him also going out wide, making a slide tackle and failing to hit the target. Fouls could start coming if he doesn’t time them well and constantly take these decisions to either not do it or do it in a situation where it wasn’t necessary.
In the picture above, Pacho tried to stop the striker from Cercle Brugge by making a slide tackle, but he missed, and the forward ended up getting into a good position after this moment, making a cross to the box that, luckily for William, wasn’t that threatening.
Below, we see another example. The Ecuadorian has been dragged out of his line by the attacker, tries to orientate him out but finds a pass to the middle. He then goes there and tries a tackle before being ultimately beaten and taken to the floor.
In possession, he needs to add another automatism to escape the pressure. As mentioned before, he doesn’t dribble that much and doesn’t find new angles in his passing because of this. When the rival cavalry arrives, he automatically passes the ball to a teammate. In the future, his game is going to be well-known, and he could start making mistakes with these passes.
William Pacho is a promising player that could be on his way to a big move in the following years, given the strengths of his game. Teams from the top five leagues in Europe very much admire a player that can be imposing in the attack, while then being sensitive and rigorous in the elaboration of the game. Jhon Lucumí, Genk’s latest sale to Serie A side, Bologna, was this kind of player. A tall, strong and powerful defender that has the ability to take the ball and help his team out from the back, while also possessing the ability and pace to play in a high line. After a failed transfer to Borussia Mönchengladbach, he was mentally down, but when signing with Antwerp all has changed. Van Bommel and his staff have a very interesting player on their hands, who can help them pose a serious challenge to become champions of Belgium, and who will develop, individually, over the course of this season.