He has overcome personal tragedy and professional adversity, and still knows how to be a nice guy while winning you football matches — Borussia Dortmund have unearthed a rare gem in Paco Alcacer.
The Spain international forward's arrival at the Signal Iduna Park - originally on a season-long loan, which was then made permanent - has raised hopes this is the number 9 the club has been looking for. bundesliga.com turns the spotlight on the man aiming to be a worthy successor to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Michy Batshuayi.
"A natural fighter with a predisposition for non-conformity, Alcacer is a top-notch forward who can create danger and strike at an instant's notice." That's how Barcelona's official website described the new BVB man, and his ability to — like the 1980s video game icon — gobble up any chance that comes his way with predatory greed. It was a trait that was handy at the Camp Nou where he had been vying with Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Ousmane Dembele for the three attacking slots up front. In the 2016/17 season, he played only 1385 minutes under Luis Enrique, but his eight league goals in that time gave him the sixth-best goals-to-minutes ratio in the league. That stat is still more impressive when you consider Messi, Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo were three of the five names ahead of him. Last season, he got seven goals in just 11 competitive starts. "You have the goalscoring instinct from being little, but you can improve it through training," Alcacer said of himself. Seems he has been training a lot…
2) Valencia born and bred
Before Barca came Valencia. A former youth and first-team colleague of former Bayern Munich full-back Juan Bernat at the Spanish club, Alcacer made his first-team debut under Unai Emery aged just 17 in November 2010. He spent the 2012/13 campaign on loan at Getafe, but upon his return to the Mestalla, he progressed to finish as Valencia's top scorer in the 2015/16 La Liga season, netting 13 times in 34 top-flight matches before Barca came calling. "A week ago, the player asked to speak to me to tell me that he wanted to leave," said Valencia president Lay Hoon Chan. "I was disappointed by what I heard in the conversation. I wanted to understand that it was difficult to turn down Barcelona." So it proved as on his 23rd birthday, Alcacer got the present of a €30 million move to the Camp Nou.
3) Tragic loss
Francisco 'Paco' Alcacer Garcia hails from Torrente, six miles from the city of Valencia and nine miles from the sea. The happy, peaceful existence he enjoyed there was shattered in August 2011 when his 44-year-old father collapsed and died of a heart attack as the family left Valencia's Mestalla Stadium.
"I was hit hard and out of nowhere when I was 18. I couldn't even say goodbye to my father, it was so tough," Alcacer told El Pais of the incident, which happened after he had scored the final goal in his club's 3-0 win over Roma in a friendly. "But that gave me the strength to keep fighting and see things in a different way."
4) MSN…& A
Had coach Enrique been able to shoehorn Alcacer into his side with Messi, Suarez and Neymar, Barcelona fans would have had an almost unique chance to use the Village People's signature hit for what would surely have been one of football's all-time greatest terrace tunes. But predictably, with competition for places fierce, Alcacer only played a bit-part role. He was still made to feel part of the team, though, with Andres Iniesta inviting him to dinner from time to time, and Suarez showing understanding when Alcacer suffered the dreaded drought that endured an excruciating 16 appearances. "Don't worry, a goal will come, don't think about it, it also happened to me," the Uruguay international told his young teammate, who scored ten and registered seven assists in his two full seasons with the Catalan giants.
5) Leadership skills
"He's no lay-about, he was one of the first to arrive at [Valencia's training ground] Paterna and I know that he is also one of the first to arrive in [Barcelona's training ground] Sant Joan Despí; for the rest, he leads a monastic life," said Vicente Mir of Alcacer, whom he used to coach in Valencia's youth ranks.
While coach of Valencia, former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville made Alcacer his captain, recognising he has a striker's selfish streak allied with the generosity of Santa Claus.
"Everyone knows their limitations and what defines us. If I have a teammate next to me in a good position to score and whom I can pass to easily, I do that rather than try an overhead kick and it goes wrong," explained Alcacer. "If you score and the team loses, it's pointless. There's reason to be happy when you help a teammate score."
6) La Reamuntada
Alcacer watched from the bench when Neymar orchestrated Barcelona's 6-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain in their 2016/17 UEFA Champions League Last 16 return leg, putting the blaugrana through 6-5 on aggregate after they had lost the first game in France 4-0. But la remontada was nothing new for the young Barca man, who had played a central role in helping Valencia do something equally spectacular three years earlier. Alongside former Hoffenheim man Eduardo Vargas, an Alcacer hat-trick — the first of his senior professional career — brought the Spanish side back from the brink in their Europa League quarter-final with Basel, turning a first-leg loss into a 5-3 aggregate win. "I will remember this hat-trick for all my life," said Alcacer after inspiring La Reamuntada, en route to finishing the season as the competition's second-top leading scorer.
7) Take note, Bundesliga defenders
Scoring goals is as much about movement as the final ball, and Alcacer knows where he likes to go to get that vital extra yard. "The front post," he explained. "Anticipation is one of the things I do best. I like shooting first-time. In the penalty area, you have to think quickly, know intuitively where the goalkeeper is and look around so that you have a full view of the goal."
8) Club and country
It's perhaps unsurprising that former Real Madrid boss Vicente del Bosque was attracted to the profile of this fan of Ronaldo who compares his playing style to that of the La Liga giants' ex-Schalke man Raul. After making his debut in September 2014, six goals came in 13 appearances for La Roja — a very healthy strike rate at international level — though after he missed out on UEFA EURO 2016, Alcacer was not called up by Del Bosque's replacement, Julen Lopetegui. Now his former coach at Barca, Luis Enrique, has taken over, he has added to his collection, returning for the first time in two and a half years to score two against Wales in a friendly, and one more against England in the UEFA Nations League in October 2018.
9) Spanish and Schwarz-gelb
Alcacer's arrival means Lucien Favre has three Spanish players at his disposal along with on-loan full-back Achraf Hakimi — a Morocco international, but born in Spain — and another ex-Barca man, Sergio Gomez. They follow in the footsteps of compatriots Marc Bartra and Mikel Merino. Bartra made 31 Bundesliga appearances, scoring twice, after also swapping Barca colours for Borussia's in summer 2016 and then heading for Real Betis in January 2018, while Merino arrived from Osasuna but played just eight league matches in the 2016/17 campaign before joining Newcastle United.
10) Big heart
Alcacer was regularly seen giving something back to the community during his time in Spain. He visited children's hospitals and care facilities, and was part of Valencia's annual charity calendar shoot for ASINDOWN, a non-profit organisation whose main objective is to "achieve the integral development of people with Down's Syndrome and to promote their full integration in the family, education and society". He also donated to UNICEF's efforts to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Haiti caused by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 - and took to social media to encourage his followers to do the same.
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