Barcelona: Close to seeing his career stagnate, Paco Alcacer is making the most of a second chance to become Spain’s top striker.
Alcacer scored twice in his first appearance for Spain in two-and-a-half years to lead a 4-1 away win at Wales in a friendly last week.
On Monday, the former Barcelona player will likely feature again when Spain hosts England in Seville seeking a second win over Gareth Southgate’s team in the incipient Nations League.
“I’m happy that I was able to help the team by doing what we strikers are supposed to, which is provide goals,” Alcacer said after Thursday’s match in Cardiff. “I just have to keep this good dynamic going.”
The 25-year-old Alcacer has been rejuvenated since leaving Barcelona on loan for Borussia Dortmund in August, a turnaround that has ended a hiatus from Spain’s national team that was in danger of becoming a permanent adios.
Previous to his two goals for Spain against Wales, Alcacer had scored seven times in a four-match scoring run for Dortmund. That streak included netting a spectacular hat trick that he completed on the last kick of the game for a 4-3 win over Augsburg.
Ironically, Alcacer’s slide toward oblivion at Barcelona began under current Spain coach Luis Enrique when he was condemned to a reserve role behind the superstar trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez in 2016-17.
Not even Neymar’s departure at the start of last season changed the situation at Camp Nou for Alcacer. Favouring other players, new coach Ernesto Valverde gave him fewer appearances than Luis Enrique.
So Alcacer decided that his best option was to leave Spain and try his luck in Germany.
And it turned out that Alcacer just needed a chance to play.
With his brace against Wales, Alcacer showed his leading quality as a striker. He is not the fastest, the strongest, nor the slickest passer — he is a pure goal scorer who excels at putting one-touch shots in-between the posts.
Against Wales, Alcacer fired a rising right-footed shot into the near corner for the lead- and his first goal with Spain since October 2015. He then put the win beyond doubt by poaching a clearance in the area to make it 3-0.
“Alcacer is playing superbly because he is on a scoring streak, but overall his attitude has been marvellous,” said Luis Enrique, who called Alcacer up to fill the void left by the injured Diego Costa.
Alcacer was not supposed to need a comeback story.
Four years ago, former Spain manager Vicente del Bosque considered Alcacer, along with Alvaro Morata, as his strikers of the future. The then Valencia player led Spain in qualifying for the 2016 European championship with five goals, but when he struggled to score for his club in the run-up to the tournament Del Bosque dropped him from his squad.
Banished to the bench following his move to Barcelona from Valencia, Alcacer was also ignored by Julen Lopetegui in his two-year tenure that took Spain to last summer’s World Cup.
Circumstances, however, have put Alcacer in good position to now succeed for ‘La Roja’.
While competition remains fierce in the positions of midfielder and playmaker for Spain, the striker job is up for grabs.
Long gone are the days when David Villa and Fernando Torres flourished up front for the 2010 world champions, as both Costa and Morata have failed to show they can be counted on for goals.
Alcacer said that he had been preparing for this return to his best form.
“It’s about several things,” he said, “about getting on a hot streak, about self-confidence, about having playing time, and, above all, about working each day when you are not playing so you can be ready.”