It’s often said that sometimes one has to take one step backwards to move two steps forward — that life is not always a straightforward journey from point A to point B. Then there are times one has to get off that path altogether and forge a new one, in areas unknown, to realise one’s full potential.
Football is no exception to this phenomenon. There’ve been many instances of a player struggle to make inroads at a big club at a young age, only to move to a smaller, lesser-spotlighted outfit and become a revelation, then securing a big-money move elsewhere. And it’s just as common for players to run out of options in their home country and pick up and move to an entirely different League, despite the risks involved on and off the pitch.
Paco Alcacer is a prime example of the latter. He’s a player who, finding himself at a major crossroads after a frustrating spell at Barcelona, said adios to his native Spain, where he had spent his entire career, and attempted to rediscover his form in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund.
Alcacer started his footballing journey as a Valencia youth product and, after impressing in the club’s B team, where he scored 28 goals in 27 appearances in 2010-11, he earned a promotion to the first team, making his debut for Los Che in a November 2010 Copa del Rey fixture.
Unfortunately, personal tragedy soon struck. In August 2011, a little over two weeks before his 18th birthday, Alcacer’s father died suddenly, outside Valencia’s Mestalla, after watching his son score the final goal in a 3-0 friendly win over Roma.
Alcacer continued to make strides even in the wake of a life-changing loss. He made his La Liga debut in January 2012 and earned a handful of first team appearances through the rest of the campaign, while continuing to score goals for the B team, netting 12 in 24 games.
A loan to Getafe followed in the 2013-14 season to give Alcacer more experience and once he settled back in at Valencia the following year, he really began to find his footing in attack. In each of the three seasons prior to his move to Barcelona, Alcacer reached double figures — scoring 14, 14 and 15 goals respectively — and it was perhaps this consistent output that earned him what was intended to be his breakout transfer, a move to Camp Nou.
But with the MSN trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar still running the show, Alcacer’s chances of securing consistent playing time were always going to be limited. And neither Luis Enrique, nor his successor, Ernesto Valverde, seemed to truly rate the striker highly enough to give him regular minutes on the pitch.
Largely used as Suarez’s understudy, usually featuring when the Uruguayan was injured, suspended or in need of a rest, Alcacer nonetheless managed to score 15 goals in two seasons at Barca, prompting Dortmund to take a gamble and agree a loan deal in August 2018. Die Schwarzgelben, of course, were reeling after losing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Arsenal in January 2018, and were looking for a reliable attacking option.
Marco Reus, with consistent injury problems, couldn’t realistically be counted on to complete a full season and despite the emergence of young, promising attacking players such as United States international Christian Pulisic, Dortmund needed more. The prospect of relying on talented but inexperienced teenagers to spearhead an attack against the mighty Bayern Munich was not a happy one.
Alcacer, for his part, was looking for a place to relaunch his career. Signal Iduna Park, which had helped Aubameyang and before him, Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski, appeared to be the perfect player. Dortmund’s reputation for giving young players a chance to shine surely appealed too, and it was somewhere Alcacer could flourish without the pressure of a club like Barca, while still featuring in one of Europe’s big five Leagues.
Early on, he was largely used as a substitute by Lucien Favre. This was not because his new boss had little faith in his abilities, but to allow him to regain match fitness and confidence after not getting much playing time during his two seasons at Camp Nou. By October, he had netted six goals in just 81 minutes of Bundesliga football as a substitute – ironically, bettering the output by Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, who had scored five and three respectively in over 500 minutes of action. Three of those goals came in a man-of-the-match performance against Augsburg, when he was brought on as Dortmund were 1-0 down to net a hat-trick as his side rallied back to clinch a 4-3 victory.
Favre clearly had succeeded where Enrique and Valverde had failed – managing to get the best out of his striker. Amazingly, despite only coming on as a sub, Alcacer was ahead of the likes of Robert Lewandowski in the scoring charts by the end of October, and continues to stake his claim for the coveted Torjägerkanone, despite teammate and Reus having one of the best seasons of his career as well thanks to putting his unfortunate injury woes behind him.
And as a result, both player and team have benefited immensely from it, with Dortmund enjoying their most successful domestic campaign fans have seen in recent years and for the first time in years, looking like real title contenders. This time, it’s Bayern who are the ones trying to play catch-up.
That Dortmund opted to make Alcacer’s loan permanent just months into the deal shows the faith the club and the Coach have in him. At 25, Alcacer is entering the prime years of his career and is a perfect fit for Dortmund. They’ve found a winning formula, Alcacer the striker there to convert the dazzling build-up play of Reus, Jadon Sancho and others. And Alcacer is ready to repay the faith Dortmund have shown in him by making the Bundesliga his home for the foreseeable future, much to the delight of the Dortmund fans, who have another No.9 they can believe in.