Game over for Pac-man: The flagging fortunes of Dani Pacheco

Dani Pacheco

Dani Pacheco

By Séamus Leonard

Given Liverpool’s squad wafer-thin this season, manager Brendan Rodgers has been forced to give youth its fling. From this adversity has come a triumph of sorts. With the performances of Raheem Sterling, Suso, Andre Wisdom and Jonjo Shelvey suggesting that the Merseysiders’ investment in youth is starting to bear fruit.

All four players were brought to Anfield during Rafael Benitez’s reign as manager, a history they share with Daniel ‘Dani’ Pacheco. While the aforementioned quartet have established themselves as first-team regulars since August, Pacheco has slipped further into the shadows.

It is a far cry from the excitement that greeted the Spaniard’s arrival at Liverpool in the summer of 2007. The attacker had been coaxed away from Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy. The chagrin that Barca felt over his departure left many Liverpool supporters salivating at the prospect of what Pacheco would do in a red jersey in the years to follow.

As it has transpired, the likeable Pacheco has done very little at the highest level. The Liverpool website shows he has made 17 first-team appearances, which is a paltry amount in four-and-a-half seasons.

It all looked more promising in February 2010 when Pacheco, who began his career at Malaga, came off the bench to provide the assist for David N’gog’s winner as Liverpool scraped past Unirea Urzinceni in the Europa League. It was especially encouraging to see the diminutive Spaniard rise above a defender to head back across goal for the French striker to finish to the net.

All the while Pacheco was making progress at international level, and in the summer of 2010 he helped Spain reach the final of the European U-19 Championships. The Spaniards were beaten, 2-1, by France in the decider, but Pacheco was awarded the Golden Boot for the four goals he scored in the tournament, adding weight to the nickname of “El Asesino” (The Assassin) he earned at Barca.

But the game against Unirea Urzinceni is one of the few highlights of Pacheco’s club career to date. He did make an impact when he was loaned out to Norwich City in 2011, with his goals and assists helping the Canaries – then managed by Paul Lambert – gain promotion to the Premier League. Unfortunately, the youngster’s exploits at Carrow Road made little or no difference to his plight on Merseyside. He was loaned out to Atletico Madrid last season, before subsequently being farmed out to Rayo Vallecano.

Despite watching players younger than himself establish themselves in Rodgers’ first team, Pacheco remained upbeat about his future early in the season. In fact, he took encouragement from fellow countryman Suso’s elevation.

Photo courtesy of liverpoolfc.com

Photo courtesy of liverpoolfc.com

Sadly, that positivity has drained from him in the intervening period, and a tweet in December indicated that he had tired of languishing in the U-21 side. Before the match with Crystal Palace, Pacheco tweeted: “Last game of reserve league till January. Then see what happen in January. Everyone knows it.”

Last Sunday, Liverpool were down to play non-league Mansfield Town in the third round of the FA Cup. If ever Pacheco was going to get a chance to prove his worth, this was it.

However, last Saturday, which happened to be Pacheco’s 22nd birthday, the player tweeted: “Thanks everyone for birthday messages. Flying home for few days. I’m not involved in tomorrow’s game. Thanks a lot again. YNWA.”

Rodgers made eight changes to his side for the Mansfield game, one of which included the selection of Jack Robinson at left-back. Fellow 19-year-old Conor Coady was named on the bench. The fact that no room could found for Pacheco in a far from full strength match-day squad suggests that Rodgers does not see any place for the free-kick specialist in his plans.

There is no obvious reason for Pacheco’s flagging fortunes. There has been no apparent falling out with any of the four managers he has labored under (Benitez, Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish and Rodgers). At the very least, there has been no publicized spat. There has never been any questioning of his work ethic. Sure he’s small in stature, but the rise of the pint-sized Sterling through the ranks proves that physicality is not a prerequisite at Liverpool at the moment.

It seems likely that Pacheco will leave Anfield before the January transfer window closes. Much like the departure of Joe Cole, it could be the best move forward for the player. Unlike Cole’s transfer to West Ham United, however, Pacheco’s release could well prove a mistake for the club in the long-run.

As Liverpool closes in on the re-signing of Tom Ince  – a player who left for Blackpool for a nominal fee at the start of last season –  in a deal worth a reported £6 million to the Tangerines, it is hard not to fear that Pacheco will also fulfil his undoubted potential in pastures new. One would hope that Rodgers is certain that “El Asesino” is not up to the required standard before he gives up on a player who was so highly rated in Catalonia. Liverpool does not have the financial wherewithal to continue to make such mistakes.

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