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Why €30 million man Paco Alcacer flopped at Barcelona

12:41 BST 29/08/2018
Paco Alcacer Granada Barcelona La Liga
The striker netted just 15 goals in two years at Camp Nou but he was afforded just 22 starts and could easily revive his career at Borussia Dortmund

At the end of his first season at Barcelona, Paco Alcacer was pretty happy with his lot.

Granted, he had spent the most of the 2016-17 campaign serving as the main back-up for Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar, but, as the striker was quick to point out, where was the shame in that?

"I have the best striker in the world ahead of me, to the right the best player in the world and on the left the best in the near future," he reasoned.

“It is very complicated and I have to work day to day to be prepared when [I have] the opportunity to play. I feel privileged to participate and I hope I will be here for many years. I'm very happy."

Just over a year on, though, and everything has changed.

Alcacer was no longer happy at Camp Nou because he was no longer Barca's first-choice reserve striker, so he left, joining Borussia Dortmund on loan for €2 million on Wednesday, with a view to a permanent transfer at the end of the season for an additional €23m.

The man who had been Valencia captain at the age of 22 had fallen behind Munir El Haddadi in the pecking order in Catalunya, even though the latter is not a natural forward, and Alcacer didn't even make the bench for Barca's Liga opener against Alaves.

Of course, this was hardly a new experience for him under Ernesto Valverde, whose arrival as coach last year effectively meant the beginning of the end of the Spain international's stay in Catalunya.

He had joined from Valencia in 2016 for €30m but initially struggled to replicate his exploits at Mestalla, where he had become a hero by bagging 43 goals in 124 games for los Che.

Indeed, it took him until February 2017 to get off the mark for Barca in La Liga but he slowly but surely improved, even netting after playing all 90 minutes in the Copa del Rey final triumph over Sevilla.

Certainly, Luis Enrique had nothing but admiration for Alcacer's ability and attitude.

"We do not have any doubts about him," the former Barca midfielder insisted. "I am content with Paco's performances and I'm very proud of him.

"I've been praising his attitude all season because he's always there for the team. He's been sublime."

However, when Valverde replaced Luis Enrique at the helm, Alcacer found himself on the fringes of the first-team squad. Last season, there often wasn't even room on the bench for him.

There were still flashes of what he could do when given game time, though, most notably a decisive double in a 2-1 win over Sevilla in November, and he still finished the season with seven goals to his name, despite only being afforded 11 starts.

In announcing his arrival at Signal Iduna Park, BVB sporting director Michael Zorc enthused, "We’re absolutely delighted that Paco Alcacer has chosen to join Borussia Dortmund and we’re firmly convinced this type of player will be a good fit for our style of play."

And that was the thing: Alcacer just wasn't a good fit for Valverde's style of play. Indeed, it is telling that Barca haven't signed a direct replacement for him, meaning they remain without a Suarez understudy, presumably because Valverde doesn't want one.

The Barca boss' preference is and always was to deploy Messi as a 'false 9' whenever the Uruguay international is injured or in need of rest, which must have been galling for Alcacer.

In addition, given Valverde persistently implemented a 4-4-2 last term, and Alcacer still wasn't trusted as a viable alternative to fulfil one of these roles, it's easy to understand why he ultimately decided that he would have to leave Barca in search of regular football.

Alcacer remains a clinical finisher with intelligent movement and, at just 24, his best years are still ahead of him. Indeed, there is no reason why he cannot excel at BVB, particularly as he'll be playing under a coach like Lucien Favre, who has previously reinvigorated Mario Balotelli's career at Nice.

Given the way he conducted himself, and the fact that he netted 15 times during a two-year stay in which he made just 22 starts from 50 appearances, Alcacer rightly left Barca on Wednesday with his head held high.

“I do not regret joining Barcelona," he declared. Barcelona could yet regret letting him go, tough.

The Blaugrana have, tellingly, retained the right to block his permanent transfer to Dortmund at the end of the season should he rediscover his goalscoring touch at Signal Iduna Park, but if Alcacer also rediscovers the happiness he lost at Camp Nou, it is difficult to see him wanting to come back.