Marvin Ekpiteta has been a pivotal figure for Blackpool this campaign, following on from his exploits in the promotion campaign.
Relatively unsung, he goes about his business with such nonchalance that supporters can take for granted the fact they will always see a solid performance from him.
Winning 3.9 aerial duels per game and 4.8 clearances per game, the most for both metrics in the Tangerines’ defence, speaks to the dominance and command he has in defensive areas.
But the Seasiders defender has had to earn his stripes throughout his career starting out at National League South side Chelmsford City following his release from Oxford United as a youngster.
His determination to make a living took him to the likes of Witham Town and Concord Rangers before he arrived at East Thurrock United where he established a reputation for himself.
John Coventry, Ekpiteta’s former manager at East Thurrock said: “You could tell he was destined for greater things, and we were so fortunate to have him at that point where he started to realise he could make a career of this.”
“I must say he was an absolutely lovely lad to work with, you come across some nice lads in football and he was definitely right up there with one of the best I’ve ever come across.”
The centre half played 42 times for The Rocks after a move from Concord Rangers that was branded ‘naïve’ by their manager Adam Flanagan at the time, in hindsight it was a masterstroke.
Ekpiteta honed his craft under the tutelage of Coventry and consistent football alongside an array of defensive partners only brought his ability on further to the point where he became a standout figure in his managers’ long career.
“Because of his all-round game and all-round determination to succeed and the way he looked after himself, he is easily the best I’ve worked with,” Coventry said.
“I’ve had players where they’ve wasted their ability because they didn’t have the right mindset whereas Marvin has everything.”
“I’ll be honest even I didn’t expect him to go as far as he is but that is testament to that mindset and determination, he has to be the very best wherever he goes.”
That hunger to make a name for himself at the highest level is evident in his first Championship season as he grows into a leader on the field for Blackpool, always a calm and composed figure even in the most frantic of matches.
Interest from higher up eventually came knocking in the form of then-National League club Leyton Orient who allowed him to return for a month loan to East Thurrock before he quickly established himself in the Orient starting line-up.
Orient fanzine the Leyton Orientear said: “Particularly in the National League title winning season he was brilliant; he was so composed in tight areas, and he provided a lot of important goals in that campaign.”
“What also stood out was his character, he was humble and showed gratitude for the opportunity he had been given by the club and he paid them back tenfold.”
It is worth noting that whoever you speak to along Ekpiteta’s career path, the first thing they mention is his character but alongside that a sheer natural ability that saw him a cut above the rest even when he stepped up divisions.
You would struggle to find a Blackpool supporter who doesn’t think the defender is one of if not the best player in this side as he continues to grow and improve game-by-game.
“I went to London a few months ago when Blackpool were playing Millwall and me and my wife were walking down the South bank and we came across some supporters, so I had to go across and ask them how Marvin was doing,” John Coventry said.
“There was a bloke and five young lads and they could not have been nicer about him and I can’t help but feel proud about that to be honest.”
No matter who sits beside him this season whether it be Richard Keogh, James Husband or a plethora of further defensive options, they always look more confident when they know Ekpiteta is beside them reading the play, ready to intervene when required.
But it is not just Blackpool players and supporters who see Ekpiteta’s ability to sweep up and control the defensive line as his key asset, it was clearly in effect long before.
“The one thing I used to notice with Marvin was if we ever got caught out, his recovery and the quality of his recovery was so good,” Coventry said.
“You thought somebody might be through on goal and then suddenly this long leg comes out of nowhere and quickly Marvin is sweeping up and coming out with the ball.”
Given his career trajectory, many will be touting the former Orient man for a potential Premier League move in the coming years, particularly with similar stories becoming increasingly common in the modern day.
“There’s another lad we used to play against, Ethan Pinnock, who had a similar route and a similar position and these sorts of lads are just built different,” Coventry said.
“I get a lot of kicks out of these stories because you see so many players passing through non-league but to see how far he has come is brilliant.”
With Neil Critchley, a head coach renowned for his player development, as his current tutor alongside the work of John Coventry in the past, it is no wonder Ekpiteta has became the player he is, but his former boss will be taking none of the credit for his rise.
“I’d love to say I made him the player he was but that was all Marvin. It is about giving young players the opportunity of frequent games, trusting them and giving them guidance along the way and when they do move on wish them all the best and hope they go on to better things,” Coventry said.
“I’m extremely proud, but with Marvin we were just the vehicle to move him on, he could have moved to any other club and his determination would have made him standout eventually. He was just too good.”
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