It may be misery not to sing at all,
And to go silent through the brimming day;
It may be misery never to be loved,
But deeper griefs than these beset the way.
Dani Pacheco can only find solace in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Life’s Tragedy”.
Having arrived at Liverpool as a youth star from Barcelona’s famed academy in 2007, Pacheco finally left for his homeland earlier this season, signing for second division side Alcorcon after having spent six years in blustery England. Six years everyone but him and the club would call a colossal waste.
Nicknamed “The Killer” for his serial finishing skills when he arrived as a fresh-faced boy from Barcelona, Pacheco was one of the first youngsters Liverpool had procured who were more in the “technical mould”, relying on their quick feet and needle-threading passes rather than bulldozing their way through defences. Standing five-and-a-half feet above terra firma, Pacheco was not going to win too many headers. But he wasn’t required to, as Benitez was embarking on an era of a style grounded in continental tastes.
Pacheco was thrown into the club’s reserve team, and the quality was their for everyone to see. Weaving in and out of onrushing defenders, chasing down lost causes the way Luis Suarez does and having the ability to strike the ball from distance with both feet, Pacheco was a coach’s delight: immense talent with the willingness to work hard. A natural finisher, it would not have been too far off to say in 2007 that Pacheco was on his way to pick up the mantle vacated by Michael Owen. High expectations were spurred on by Pacheco’s performances for the reserve team, and it was only a matter of time before the Spaniard played for the first team.
Pacheco made his debut for the club’s senior side in December 2009 against Fiorentina in a Champions League game, and the game was indicative of Pacheco’s future: the Reds have not played a Champions League game since.
But Pacheco continued to impress, winning the Golden Boot at the 2010 U19 European Championships, a tournament which included the likes of Iker Muniain, Thiago Alcantara, Koke, Andreas Weimann, Antoine Griezmann, Fabio Borini and Sergio Canales. His star was very much on the rise, and Pacheco was just getting started.
But the time never came. Match after match, Pacheco warmed the bench, as the revolving door of Liverpool’s managerial roulette meant that Pacheco never got his due. With Benitez leaving after the disastrous 2009-10 season, the arrival of Roy Hodgson and his crop of mediocre, but favoured, players sidelined Pacheco further. Next came Dalglish and the Comolli-fueled binge on British players. Looking back, it is scarcely believable that someone like Charlie Adam blocked Pacheco’s path into the first eleven.
It was no surprise then that Pacheco was farmed out to Norwich, Athletico Madrid (who in turn loaned him to Rayo Vallecano) and Huesca in the second tier of Spanish football. With no opportunity to settle at one place given the duration of his loan periods-from two months to one season-Pacheco struggled to adapt to changing conditions. And when he was not loaned out, he either sat on the first team’s bench, or played for the reserves. For three years, Pacheco resembled the West Bromwich Albion team of the 2000s: too good for the Championship, but lacking the quality to compete at the highest level. And just like the Baggies, Pacheco needed a continued run.
While Albion managed to cement their place in the top-flight in 2011-12 after six years of yo-yoing between the Championship and the Premier League, Pacheco’s chance never came. A total of 17 appearances for the first team was his return from the six years at Merseyside.
Pacheco’s unfulfilled talent, or the lack of opportunity, was part of a systemic failure, with Liverpool’s ownership and managerial issues compounding the problem for young players who never got the chance they deserved. And Pacheco was not the only one. Emiliano Insua, Alex Kacaniklic, Krisztian Nemeth, Daniel Ayala, Mikel San Jose, Tom Ince, Stephen Darby and Chris Mavingva were all lost to the club after having made less than a handful of starts. And where are they all now? Plying their trade across Europe, Liverpool would pay good money for a majority of those mentioned. Insua plays for Athletico Madrid, while San Jose is at Bilbao. Mavingva made a multi-million euro transfer to Rubin Kazan from Rennes, and half the Premier League is after Ince’s signature which could cost up to 10 million pounds.
The mid-2000s was a strange period for young players, as clubs from all over Europe searched for the next Fabregas or Messi. Unfortunately, for every Fabregas which Arsene Wenger found in the rooms of La Masia, there were a hundred others who did not immediately make the grade at their new clubs for several reasons.
The tragedy of Pacheco’s short career is not that he will now have to climb up from Spain’s second division and chart a new path to bigger clubs he deserves to play for. His tragedy lies in the minutes he spent off the pitch, fervently hoping for a few minutes with the likes of Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres. Nothing can be worse for the youth than spending time waiting in the wings. Development comes with challenging times on the pitch, not off it.