In the summer of 2009, just weeks after the close of Liverpool’s most successful domestic campaign in almost twenty years, the Guardian newspaper reported that Fernando Torres had recommended to his manager, Rafa Benitez, three players to improve the Premier League’s second-best side. We all know of managers haunted by decisions they have taken, but just as regrettable can be the opportunities that, by their choice or otherwise, they pass up. On Torres’s list? David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata.
As the nominated three went on to forge fruitful careers with Barcelona, Manchester City and Chelsea respectively, one wonders how differently things might have turned out had any one, dare we say all of them, been successfully pursued by the man now in charge of Napoli.
After all, by 2009 Benitez had form for Spanish acquisitions. Perhaps exclusively, the very best purchases of his Anfield tenure – Pepe Reina, Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia, the aforementioned Torres – were of his native land. The record-breakingly, ruthlessly successful international compatriots whom these figures, bar Garcia, play alongside vindicate the then-manager’s decision to build around a Spanish core. These are figures so driven, so determined, that they, alongside Mata, Silva and Villa, have redefined what once seemed the inescapable connotations attached to wearing La Roja. Though their dominance is now resented by plenty, it’s easy to forget that even ten years ago they were a country famed for producing talented – and often iconic – bottlers.
And so we come to Dani Pacheco. He may not ever hit the career highs of Spaniards before him for whom international success remained so agonisingly elusive – Raúl, Guardiola, Hierro, Camacho – but he shares, in stark contrast to so many of his generation, that same burden of unfulfilled expectation. He has had his chances at Liverpool, but with each anticlimactic performance came an increasing, eventually unavoidable sense that he would never make the breakthrough so many saw in him. It is unfortunate, in that sense, that his career has coincided with the unprecedentedly (and quite possibly insurmountably) sustained period of footballing excellence. He would be better placed, one feels, in a different generation; one in which it were possible for good players to drift by, never quite reaching the heights they had once hoped for, but finding themselves drafted into international squads with far superior players – the likes of Raúl and Guardiola – unable to make a difference as those icons missed their chance at international glory.
No longer is this an option for any Spaniard. Such is the ferocious competition for squad places that even the hard working, highly talented find themselves outdone by harder working, more talented peers. What is always said of Pacheco is that he has failed to live up to Liverpool’s standards; what compounds this is that he has failed to live up to his country’s. In an age of unparalleled success, the classically underachieving Spaniard feels not only a frustrating tale, but an outdated one, too.
On the subject of club frustration alone, though, there is plenty to be disappointed about. I spoke to Twitter’s resident Liverpool Reserves and Academy expert, @LFC_reserves, to try and get a better understanding of what it is that has held the 22 year old back thus far:
The best way to look at Danny Pacheco and Liverpool is a love story gone wrong. When Pacheco first joined, much was expected but that has never really come to fruition. In the majority of games he’s played at first team and academy level, you’d see him as an advanced midfielder or on the left wing, the latter being his best position. The main reason behind the Spaniard’s lack of progression is that he’s simply drifted through life at Liverpool without ever having the work ethic to impressing the different coaching staff in his time here.
Indeed, for so long the view among fans was: ‘if that many managers have seen something in him not to sell him, surely there must be something there to look forward to?’, but as he approached his mid-twenties, the more pertinent question soon became: ‘how have this many seen him in action, but not one of them think him ready?’. Perhaps the succession of loan moves were simply a result of failing to agree a permanent move on multiple occasions, but there seems a real possibility that for too long Liverpool allowed themselves to become wrapped up in the idea of Pacheco; in the idea of a promise that was essentially hollow. Since his arrival in 2007 some truly awful players have come and gone at Anfield – and yet Pacheco never looked sufficiently motivated to displace any of them from their places in the squad, let alone the starting eleven.
The stark reality of the step down he now makes, to second division Spanish side AD Alcorcon, is that this is a move which should have happened a long time ago. It is in the nature of youth football that not every prospect fulfils their potential, and Pacheco’s relationship with the club, because of the heightened expectations surrounding Spanish footballers, because of the length of time fans and coaches waited for him to break through, was more complicated than it needed to be. The truth, underwhelming and deflating as it might be, is that he’ll never come close to the heights reached by Villa, Siva and Mata. Compared to them, he is the ultimate disappointment: a Spaniard without the will to succeed. And if he hasn’t been inspired by the heroics of his universally admired countrymen by now, that tells Liverpool, as much as Spain, all they need to know.