Earlier in the summer, Samuel Umtiti arrived from Lyon to finally quell the calls for a young defender to help add depth and eventually take the place of Javier Mascherano next to Gerard Pique. When Claudio Bravo made his move to Manchester City, he was astutely replaced by Jasper Cillessen of Ajax.
While depth has been added to the midfield and defence, the ongoing saga to find a fourth forward was always going to be the most difficult piece of business for the transfer window. Ultimately, Barcelona’s decision-makers stayed patient and waited until Valencia’s Paco Alcácer became available for a reasonable price.
Alcácer may not have been the first choice, with Kevin Gameiro and other several young Brazilians on the wish list ahead of him, but he could ultimately be the best choice in the long-term. He is only 23-years-old, but unlike the Brazilians, he has already established himself in a top-flight European league.
It seems like Alcácer hits every one of the basic criteria for Barcelona. Not needing to learn Spanish is a major plus for the club, as the language barrier has derailed even the best transfer on paper when the coach asks for more than the player can comprehend. Not only does he understand the language, but he also has an understanding of La Liga. Even though Barcelona is often linked with players across Europe, they have a track record of acquiring players with domestic experience, with Jeremy Mathieu, Andre Gomes, Arda Turan, Ivan Rakitic, Aleix Vidal and Jordi Alba all being on that list.
Alcácer was not as highly touted as other young forwards at his position, but he has made a drastic and recent ascent. He was born in Torrent in the Valencian Country and he was raised in Valencia’s youth system. Though he made his senior debut at the ripe old age of 16, he spent most of his teenage development with the reserve squad. In the 2012/13 season, the forward was given his first real taste of first team action, going on loan at Getafe -- where he showed well with three goals and one assist before returning to Los Che.
Barcelona got their first up-close and personal viewing of Alcácer in January of 2014 when he came to the Camp Nou and scored the 3-2 match winner. In that season, he scored 14 goals. The following year, he made five appearances in the Champions League and collected 14 goals once more. Last season, he totalled his best output yet with 15 goals. This kind of consistency shows that he didn’t just have one season that was a flash in the pan.
At 1.76 m, he isn’t the target forward that some have expected, though he is fairly confident in the air in terms of finishing. He may not be the best in 50/50 aerial duels or with his feet, but he makes up for it with his finishing instincts and his ability to create space for teammates in and around the box. His role as a fourth striker means that his primary task will be to come into matches when Barcelona’s offense is battling stagnation and put the ball into the back of the net.
While he is being added to the squad for this goalscoring ability, his defense will be the most important part of his game at the onset. Luis Enrique has certain expectations of his forwards, and Alcácer must learn to press with the same vigor of his new teammates. If he is able to learn his defensive duties quickly, the coaching staff may be more inclined to have him start matches earlier in the season to allow the other forwards periodic rest throughout the entire campaign.
The most significant quality of Barcelona’s latest signing may be the common denominator that he shares with the rest of the new recruits, with the exception of Cillessen -- That is that he is a player still in his early 20s and is therefore still entering his prime.
Being six years Luis Suarez’s junior, the hope should be that Alcácer is truly coming of age just as the Uruguayan is beginning his decline. For now, the younger striker can learn from three of the very best forwards in the world while gradually challenge for a starting spot.
Mucha suerte, Paco!