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The Mystery of Dani Pacheco

Dani Pacheco is still very much an unknown. The 21-year-old Spaniard has been a member of Liverpool Football Club since moving from Barcelona in 2007, but if you scan forums and read tweets, everyone has a different opinion of him.

He’s been fairly hyped, over-hyped, fairly criticized, unfairly criticized, and dismissed – with hardly ever kicking a ball for Liverpool at the senior level.

Did he peak at too young an age? Is he simply not good enough? Has his development been handled poorly by the club? Has he just never been given a consistent run of games?

Basically, just what is Dani Pacheco as a player and does he have a future at Liverpool?

Early Peak

Pacheco came to the Liverpool youth set-up with a lot of hype. Nicknamed “The Assassain” during his tenure at Barcelona, Pacheco’s signature by Rafa Benitez was considered a coup for Liverpool and a loss to the Catalan Club. According to a number of outlets, Barca youth coach Garcia Pimienta was quoted as saying:

“It is a great loss for the club because he is a forward with a lot of quality, he has been our top goal scorer (scoring 30 goals in the previous season) and has already played for the youth team.

“He is one of the cadets we had the most hope for, but nothing can be done anymore. Everything happened very suddenly.”

The 5-6 Pacheco was impressive for Barcelona, and it wasn’t just his goal-scoring record. It was his movement and combination play that caught the eye of the Merseyside club.

The Spaniard made his first start for the Liverpool Reserves in February 2008 and scored the game’s opening goal. His play throughout the remainder of the Reserve season aided the Reds en route to winning the 2008 Premier Reserve League North title.

That fine form would continue throughout the Reserves and would eventually see Pacheco called up for Spain’s u-19 team in the 2010 u-19 Euros. Pacheco had a quality tournament, scoring four times to win the golden boot award. In the final, which Spain lost to France 2-1, Pacheco got the assist for his side’s only goal.

For all the classy displays Pacheco put in at the youth level, there’s always the possibility that he was just better than other 19-year-old kids he was playing against at the u-19 Euros and in the Reserve League.

He would need senior appearances to prove that wasn’t the case and to repay the faith, hope, and the hype given him by the supporters.

Loans and Senior Appearances

Pacheco has only made 16 senior appearances for Liverpool – two of which have come under current manager Brendan Rodgers. He was handed his debut by Benitez in 2009 against Fiorentina in the Champions League, used predominately in cup competitions by Roy Hodgson, and made zero appearances under Kenny Dalglish, who sent him out on loan twice.

Where the club loaned Pacheco is a topic of debate, and ultimately one of a problematic nature of Liverpool’s loan system.

His first loan came in March 2011 and was to Norwich City, who at the time were plying their trade in the Championship and whose captain, Grant Holt, played in his position. Although not necessarily the out-and-out, lead-the-line type of attacker, Pacheco nonetheless can play up top, wide left, or as faux No. 10.

Loaning him out to a team where he wasn’t going to be playing regularly was a mistake. But, given the loan period started in March, it’s manageable and understandable to an extent.

The Spaniard made six appearances for the Canaries and scored two goals, genuinely enjoying the experience if his twitter feed is anything to go by, and helping the club gain promotion to the Premier League.

With the start of the 2011-2012 campaign, Dalglish once again sent Pacheco out on loan, this time to Atletico Madrid with an option to buy. Los Rojiblancos – they who boast Radamel Falcao up top – in turn loaned Pacheco out to Rayo Vallecano.

Again, Pacheco didn’t feature much, playing in only 11 games (all as a substitute) and dealing with an ankle injury. Sent on loan within a loan, it was always unlikely he’d be a standout for a team whose leading goal-scorer in Michu occupied the attacking mid role. Michu now finds himself in the Premier League with Swansea City after scoring 15 goals in La Liga that season.

And again, Pacheco was loaned to club he simply wasn’t needed at.

 

This Season

Upon returning to Liverpool, Pacheco featured on the team’s preseason tour of the northeastern United States, playing a wide role in Brendan Rodgers’ 4-3-3.

An attempt to send him on loan for the third time (fourth if you count the loan within a loan) fell through. It was one of several calamitous events that happened on Deadline Day 2012 that left the club with just two senior strikers in Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini.

Post-Aug. 31 disaster, Pacheco has been selected twice by Rodgers – the first coming in the Europa League and the other coming in the Capital One Cup. In the 3-5 win at BSC Young Boys, Pacheco led the front line and put in 62 minutes. Failing to get a shot off, Pacheco made little impact before being replaced by Borini.

He’d get another opportunity from Rodgers a week later, putting in a much-improved performance. Playing as the attacking mid, Pacheco put two of his three shots on target, including an excellent effort batted away by West Brom keeper Ben Foster.

His attacking display was impressive: getting the ball, moving it on, linking up with teammates, putting shots on target and getting in-between the lines. It was the Dani Pacheco that was playing for the Reserves a few years back.

Pacheco’s defensive effort in impressive as well, tracking back continually to help Nuri Sahin and Jordan Henderson break up attacks, throwing his 5-6 frame around and even pitching in with a few tackles. Had it not been for the excellence of Sahin’s two goals and Oussama Assaidi’s brilliance on the left, Pacheco could have very well picked Man of the Match honors.

Back to the u-21s

Despite Pacheco’s fine display in the thrilling 1-2 win for the Reds, he wasn’t selected for the next fixture, an encounter with his former loan club Norwich City. A 2-5 win for Liverpool – including another hat-trick at Carrow Road for Suarez –meant Pacheco wouldn’t have been needed, but surely his fine display days earlier would have warranted a place on the bench ahead of Stewart Downing, for example.

With that lack of inclusion, Pacheco has since found himself back with the now-rebranded Under-21 League and again in a different position – this time left wing.

“It’s not easy (going back into Under-21 football) especially as I’ve been here for many years now and that happens to me almost every two weeks,” he told the Liverpool Echo. “But I have to keep working as hard as I can and try to impress the manager.

“When I come to the reserves, some of the players who are training at the Academy every week are left on the bench because I’m in the reserves so I have to play my best, first for myself, and then for the other players in the team.”

What now?

Who knows what’s in Pacheco’s future. While Brendan Rodgers’ management has given amble first team time to fellow Academy grads Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom, Pacheco has not been selected nearly as often as his peers.

He’s back with the u-21s, playing his football against people his own age or younger.

For that reason, no one knows what Dani Pacheco is really like at the senior level. He’s showed great promise at the youth level, yet he’s been passed around by managers before being given a consistent run of games to show what he can do. Until he has been given that run – even if it is the League Cup and Europa League – an accurate judgment cannot be made.

The question to ask is: Who is Dani Pacheco and will we ever get the chance to see him?

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