Not since Agustin Delgado and Kleber Chala were at Southampton has a Premiership side had two Ecuadorians within their ranks. Birmingham’s recent signings of Christian Benitez and Giovanny Espinoza have struck keen interest amongst blues supporters.
Delgado and Chala didn’t leave much of a legacy at Southampton. Delgado, Ecuador’s all time leading scorer, was hounded by injuries and struggled to adapt to the club, while Chala never broke through to the first squad.
A record club transfer of £7.7m, Benitez is the son of Ecuadorian legend Ermiz Benitez. He is coming off two strong years in the Mexican top flight with Santos Laguna. The diminutive 23-year-old striker, known as “La Panterita” (the little panther), scored 31 goals in 58 matches and was named the most valuable player of 2008. Unfortunately his physical revealed that he’s arriving to Birmingham with a knee injury. Historically, Latin American players have struggled to adapt to the increased physicality of the Premiership. Only time will tell if Benitez will help keep Birmingham clear of relegation, or if he’ll follow in the footsteps of Delgado at Southampton.
Birmingham will worry less about Espinoza’s transition to the Premiership. “La Sombra”, or the shadow, is known for his physical play. The 6’2, 198 lbs. defender indeed casts a shadow on his marks. At 32, Espinoza brings the experience of two world cups and is currently the second most capped player in Ecuadorian history. He has also had a successful stint with Vitesse in the Eredivisie and captained famed Cruzeiro of Brazil.
Benitez is pleased to be playing alongside fellow national team member. “I’m very happy that he’s (Espinoza) here. It’s always better having someone you know around.”