Valencia CF possess undeniably one of the best youth systems in the whole of the Iberian region – with salivating talents consistently coming through the ranks. Some of the world class alumni who have dazzled and captured the imagination of the footballing world include dynamos Juan Mata and David Silva. A recent graduate of the academy who has joyously captivated audiences at the Mestalla is Los Che striker Paco Alcacer. The last few years domestically have been less than glamorous for Valencia, after finishing 8th (2013-2014) and 5th (2012-2013) respectively. Their re-emergence this season has been largely thanks to excellent development with youth prospects. Alcacer leads the line for this exciting young side with a certain swagger and a fiery determination.
Who is Paco Alcacer?
Born on the 19th of August 1993 in the heart of Valencia, Torrent; Paco was an influential player in Valencia’s youth academy – showing flashes of brilliance. The young striker’s fine form was rewarded when he was given his senior debut at the precocious age of 16 years old during the 2009-2010 season. This was anything but fortuitous, and was a testament to Alcacer’s strong determination and work ethic at such a young age. As opportunities at senior level began to present themselves, he continued to dazzle on the international stage for his country’s youth sides. He lead the line for Spain’s U-17’s side during the Uefa European U-17 Championships with an impressive 8 goals in just 6 games. Alcacer carried this spectacular form into the showcase tournament and finished as the competition’s top goalscorer with 6 goals. The Spaniard’s second half brace against Turkey in the semi-finals was enough to propel them to the final, but unfortunately they were unable to defeat England and lost 2-1 to finish runners up. The talisman went onto to star for Spain at the 2011 UEFA European Championships in Romania, helping his country successfully triumph and win the tournament for the 8th time.
Perhaps, one of the most dramatic and tumultuous events in the 21 year old’s life so far occurred on what seemed like a perfectly ordinary day on the 12th August 2011. Valencia were playing in a friendly game at the Mestalla Stadium against Italian side AS Roma. Paco decided to invite both his parents to the game to watch their son play for his hometown club. The match ended 3-0 to the home side, and Alcacer found himself on the scoresheet. This sense of euphoria was abruptly interrupted when he was leaving with his family, and suddenly his father collapsed and fell to the ground. Paramedics rushed to the scene and tirelessly tried to resuscitate the stricken parent; however despite their valiant efforts Paco Alcacer’s father died of a heart attack. Distraught and overwhelmed, the 17 year old used football therapeutically, returning to training after a week. The harsh circumstances helped mould the youngster from a mental perspective.
Upon returning to Valencia, Alcacer was given the number nine shirt, and the club were enthused about the future of their homegrown striker. They showed their obvious commitment to the player by starting him in 17 la liga games, in which Paco thrived – exuding tremendous confidence on his way to finishing the season with a tally of six goals and two assists. Despite his surprising performances domestically, it was during a second leg Uefa Europa League tie in which Los Che were down 3-0 coming into the game that the young virtuoso introduced himself to the world. A sensational showing from the side in front of an ever faithful crowd saw them dismantle FC Basel and win 5-0, and progress with a 5-3 aggregate score. The name that stood out was Alcacer, who tortured the opposition scoring a hat-trick. He went on to claim “This was my best night as a professional” when asked about his coming of age performance after the game.
After the conclusion of the 2013/2014 season the vultures began to surround and stalk the prized possession; speculation mounted about reported interest from clubs throughout Europe. On August 29th 2014 Spanish national coach Vicente del Bosque named Paco Alcacer in the squad set to face both Macedonia and France. An unfortunate injury to Chelsea’s Diego Costa seen him given his first start for his country in the match against Macedonia in a UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying game. The opportunistic forward snatched at this and raised to the occasion by getting himself on the scoresheet and also adding an assist in the 5-1 victory.
After scoring 4 goals in the opening 5 games in the 2014/2015 campaign, Alcacer experienced a drought in the league that lasted until he broke the duck against Eibar in December. Inconsistency has plagued the striker throughout this year’s campaign and his resiliency continue to aid him in times of frustration. This season has been a test, but he refuses to let his ego affect the overall performance of the team.
Style of Play, Strength and Weaknesses
At 21 years old, Paco exhibits a daringness and arrogance typical of his youth, but most awe-inspiring is his positional awareness and predatory instincts. He’s usually seen playing in the middle of Valencia’s front three, with Rodrigo and Sofiane Feghouli typically flanking him. His finesse, deceptively quick-feet and first touch beguile hapless defenders into errors; however it’s the killer instinct that separates him from his peers.
He epitomises the modern day forward: a natural ability to use both feet, look for teammates in advantageous positions and be strong aerially as well. His style of play can be traced back to the Spanish system’s heavy emphasis on short passing, which has been implemented in various academies, reserve and senior sides throughout the nation over the last ten years. Isolated tight space training has seen a vast improvement in the technical ability and progression of players coming through.
The Spaniard has the added dimension of been a rather physical striker at 5″9 and 11 stone. The ability to interchange clever flicks and touches with a more classic number 9 role by holding the ball up also aides him in his unpredictability. He keeps opposing back lines alert and honest with the pace to run in behind defenders.
Given the opportunity he will show his footballing intelligence by feigning particular runs and drifting across the frontline, strategically pulling ensuing markers across the field. It’s this kind of acumen and attention to the finer details coupled with a certain audaciousness that have elevate Paco.
Despite his glowing physical gifts, he can be a victim of inconsistency and he has been known to disappear in some of the bigger games. His over-reliance on his right foot hinders his fluidity in certain areas. Alcacer is a player who performs in spurts and at times can be seen to lose determination; these frustrations can negatively influence his overall performance. He needs to address these minor niggling issues if he is to become a reliable team member and someone who is looked at as a potential star player.
A lack of defensive urgency is obvious in the makeup of his game, with tracking back, marking and tackling being clear weaknesses. At this stage is his career, flaws like these are to be expected and it’s something he takes in stride rather than wallowing in self-pity. Valencia’s belief in him throughout his faltering goalscoring form this season seen him sign a contact extension earlier in the year. Alcacer’s unselfishness and vision are what have propelled him to overcome adversity and rediscover his early season.
What does the future hold?
As one of the figureheads of Spain’s new generation alongside names like Gerard Deulofeu and Jese Rodriquez, the future appears to be exceedingly bright. Interest from various Premier League clubs in the January transfer weren’t enough to sway the 21 year old and ultimately Valencia is best place for him to develop; as it looks increasingly likely that they will be competing in next year’s Champions League. A strong year in both Europe and the la liga next season could see him potentially claim a spot in Spain’s squad for the 2016 European Championships in France. If indeed he does secure that coveted spot – the sky is the limit!
Written by Andrew Woods
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