The confirmation of Paco Alcacer’s move to Barcelona from Valencia put to bed the not-so-secret transfer saga that has stretched across preseason and into the start of the new La Liga campaign.
Barca confirmed the €30m (rising to €32m) capture of Alcacer on Monday, and the striker joins a number of new recruits for the Catalans this summer as they look to defend their league title.
However Enrique’s insistence on securing the forward has been the source of much debate as Barca’s summer spending passes the €100m mark. So what awaits Camp Nou’s newest son and how does he fit in?
The €30m man from Torrent
Alcacer caught the eye across the last three seasons with Valencia, following on from his loan at Getafe. The forward’s 13 goals in all competitions in 2013-14 was enough to earn him a full Spain cap in September 2014, and he scored on his competitive debut against Macedonia.
He went on to net 14 La Liga and Copa del Rey goals in 2014-15 and one more in all competitions last season.
This type of form is not that of a prolific goalscorer, particularly not one that matches up to the records of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. In fact, it has been Alcacer’s record for the national team that has brought him closer to attention, with six goals in his first nine international appearances as he played a key role in Euro 2016 qualification, although he was overlooked by Vicente del Bosque for the tournament squad.
His wider game appears to be the bigger attraction for Enrique, who sees the raw assets in Alcacer that can be moulded into a top-level player. He has pace, tenacity and an ability to occupy defenders through his work rate, all factors that the Coach will be keen to exploit.
Although his record suggests a moderate return, it has to be noted that, in respect to Valencia’s poor 15-16 campaign, Alcacer was their most reliable goal threat and poses a real threat when in the right areas.
The missing part of the jigsaw?
Despite the mega-money transfers of forward players across Europe this summer, it was expected that Barca would strengthen in other areas due to their excellent resources in attack.
However, it is a sign of Alcacer’s perceived potential that the club have made a move for him. The 23-year-old is something of a rarity within Spain internationals, in that his strengths lie within his desire to get into the six-yard box and finish simple chances. He does not operate as a player that creates from deep or create chances with incisive passes. Instead, he will be a constant presence in the penalty area, something Barca do not always have. Suarez is the closest to a classic centre forward at the club, but he will play deeper at times to accommodate Neymar’s pace.
The biggest challenge that Alcacer will face is getting into the team, given the options available to Enrique, but when he is given an opportunity, he will be under pressure to take it. His goal record will be examined, and if it is not up to standard, questions will be asked of his ability to cope at the highest level.
The signing of a goalscoring striker is a transfer that Barca is familiar with as they’ve often had all the tools for an all-conquering side but needed the gun to take the chances. This was clear in the signing of Suarez in 2014 and David Villa in 2010, and both moves were successful.
The expectation will be that Alcacer should produce a strong return, due to the strength of his supporting cast, regardless of the amount of game time he gets.
A nod to the future
The plan behind Barca’s moves this summer is clear – they’re geared for the near future and when their illustrious stars move towards retirement.
Alcacer is not necessarily a direct replacement for a current Barca player, but the motivation behind his move, along with those of Denis Suarez, Lucas Digne, Samuel Umititi and Andre Gomes, is a clear nod to the future.
Barca have had to constantly readjust and adapt with the demands placed upon them by both domestic and European competition, and these new players will have been selected for a specific role moving forward.
Each new signing will have a significant role to play this season, particularly Suarez, Umtiti and Alcacer, but it is more likely that they will be phased in as part of a wider team integration.
What now for Munir?
As part of the Alcacer deal, Barca have allowed Munir El Haddadi to move to Valencia on loan, with an option to sell them the 21-year-old at the end of the season.
This agreement doesn’t necessarily mean the end for the academy product in Catalonia, however if Alcacer is to be a success and Arda Turan is to continue his good form, it would be difficult to see Munir securing a place in the team if he returned.
His role this season was likely to be limited if he had stayed with Enrique’s side, despite six goals in his last seven games in 2015-16, with him having to be happy to settle for a substitute role. This would have been frustrating for the starlet, though, as he’d be a key player for many other La Liga sides. Thus, a move makes sense for his personal development. In relation to the better part of the deal, both players are still something of a work in progress, but Alcacer is certainly more developed and possesses greater experience, even if Munir is the more versatile.
Barca will monitor Munir’s performances down the coast with Pako Ayestaran’s side, and should he move to the latter permanently then La Blaugrana will have a first refusal on him in future, a clause they could well exercise if he progresses the way his potential indicates.