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Danny Pacheco - Interesting Interview on his life

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THE difference between youth development in English and Spanish football is principles. In England top scouts look for speed and power. In Spain, the best teams crave possession. In England three points often come about through tempo and via the quickest route to goal. In Spain you usually win by keeping the ball with short one or two touch passes.

Rather than pursue a career in the familiar, more technical playing fields of La Liga, Spaniard Daniel Pacheco chose to move to England at 16, signing a contract with Liverpool after spending his formative years with Malaga and Barcelona.

Then standing at 5ft 5”, “I’ve since grown by an inch,” the perceptive forward was acutely aware of the challenges that would follow. He grew up in the rural Andalusian town of Pizarra, 40 miles inland from the Costa del Sol coastline, with a constant desire for five-a-side football with friends. Here trickery and quick feet were rewarded with goals and eventually a place in Malaga’s under-12 academy side.

A move to England would not only be mentally taxing but also pose a test of obvious physical progression. Few senior players of such diminutive stature have come to the Premier League and succeeded. Even fewer have done it after arriving as a teenager.

“When people watch Barcelona or the Spanish national team, they look at me – ‘See at all of the youngsters – they’re all small with ability.’” Pacheco says. “They ask me why I chose to l chose to come to England – a place where it is more difficult to do well when you’re my size.”

His response is well rehearsed: “I signed for Liverpool because they saw something in me. They wouldn’t have signed me otherwise...if I wasn’t suited to the style of the league.

“So I need to be strong and believe. Of course, you can take many positive things from legends like Stevie and Carra. But I will always be my own person. I’ll do it my own way.”

Pacheco has recently signed a new long-term deal, keeping him tied to Anfield until the summer of 2014. Despite being limited to just three cup starts so far this season, including the League Cup defeat at home to Northampton, “a bad night for everybody,” he is steadfast in his opinion that exciting times will happen soon for him on Merseyside.

“The club has always shown a lot of confidence in my ability,” he insists. “They made so much effort to bring me here and since then, they’ve always been good to me. I am proud and happy to represent this club. They are one of the biggest in the world and I’d hate to leave without making myself a regular...being successful.”

There was a time, though, when he admits that there was little compelling evidence that they wanted him to remain. It led to rumours in the press that he was prepared to go back home to Spain.

“My old contract only had one more year to run and naturally, I was thinking ‘Do the club want me to stay?’ Now that I have signed the contract, it gives me security. I know that I have a long-term future at the club and they have made it clear to me that if I work hard on the training pitch and continue my development, I will get a chance. Then it’s up to me to play well and stay in the side. Only I can do that.”

The test of becoming a first team regular may appear daunting. Yet Pacheco has overcome many obstacles already in his life.

“I started playing football when I was four and my brother, Juan, was already 10. All the kids in the town were also older and taller than me. The youngest team were under-12s and I started playing competitively when I was nine. It made me develop a lot quicker – I had to be tough, to fight for everything and prove to people that I wasn’t afraid”

Upon signing for Malaga, Pacheco’s potential was marked by being pushed into the club’s older age groups. Brother Juan, meanwhile, was already starring in the under-18 side.

“The manager of the first team wanted to select him but when Barcelona approached me, the president said that if I left, it would make life very difficult for Juan. The manager was saying ‘here – I’ll pick you for the first team – but first, you have to change the owner’s mind.’ It never happened. They eventually released him from his contract.”

Juan returned to Pizarra and played for the town’s non-league team. Then shortly before Daniel moved to Catalonia, his parents separated.

“The decision to go to Barcelona was tough on everybody,” he continues. “It was a big sacrifice because it clearly affected Juan’s career and it came at a time when my parents were having a bad time. [They had always worked together in their own family-run restaurant]. My brother understood my decision. He felt that if the club was going to act like that, they weren’t worth working for anyway.

Suddenly, Pacheco was living in Spain’s second most populated city, amidst a different distinct culture, hundreds of miles away from anyone he knew. “The first few months were very hard. I would say it was biggest decision of my life to leave Andalusia. Bigger, even than when I came here to Liverpool from Barcelona.”

Pacheco, who is refreshingly candid and reflective for someone so young, says maturity has come quicker to him than because of the life skills learnt while at La Masia, Barcelona’s academy for the best young footballers in Spain. “It’s a great place and I am proud to say that I was there for four years. They look after you there as a person – not just as a footballer.”

When Pacheco finished last summer’s under-19s European Championship’s leading goalscorer, seven of his team-mates in the starting XI were friends who remain at Barcelona.

“Boys like Oriol Romeu, Thiago Alcantara and Ruben Rochina – they all have big futures. Barcelona has such a big influence on Spanish football now. They have the style. All of the Barca players have played with the same 4-3-3 system every single game since they were nine years old. The repetition means that when they arrive in the first team, it’s a lot easier because you know the system inside out.”

There are other reasons why Spain has produced so many bright young technical players.

“The weather makes a big difference,” Pacheco says. “Because the sun is shining most of the time, kids can go out in the morning and play until late at night – 9 or 10 o’clock. When it rains, there are more facilities where people can go. Here it doesn’t seem that way. In the winter, the weather is much colder so for many months in the year, people would rather stay indoors than go out and play football or other sports.

“The technical ability of the players has already been there but now we have a winning mentality to go with it. That’s why we’re successful at most levels of football now.”

En-route to the under-19s final in France, where they eventually lost to the hosts, Pacheco scored against England in a 3-1 victory. Coach, Luis Milla – the former Barcelona and Real Madrid midfielder – was a decisive influence on the player’s performances.

“It was a great, important, tournament for me,” he reflects. “Before it started, I talked with the Luis and he said that even though I wasn’t playing very many games – he believed in me. I knew it was a chance for me to do well in Europe and prove myself at international level.

“Like me, Luis was a small player. He had a long, successful career with two of the biggest clubs in the world. He trusted us technically and offered advice on the mental side of the game. All of the squad liked him.”

Pacheco grew up admiring Zinedine Zidane, “whenever he came to the Camp Nou with Real, I was desperate to get a ticket,” but these days he takes inspiration from Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

“They’re brilliant – the players of the moment. Either one of them should win the Golden Ball. To see players like this – players who are my size, playing in such important positions in the best football team in the world – it gives me a lot of confidence. It can be done.”

At Melwood, the player he watches mostly is Steven Gerrard.

“Everyone can improve. Every day. When you’re 19 and you see Stevie trying to improve himself in training – with his left foot for example or maybe heading – if a player like him tries to improve, you realise how far you have to go if you want to reach the top.”

One of the reasons why Pacheco studies Gerrard is because he sees his best position in a similar area of the field: that link-man between midfield and attack.

“We are completely different physically and I am not comparing myself to him because he is one of Liverpool’s greatest players,” he says. “But I know I can play a role in the team – try to help them – from that position.

“I have played a lot on the left and right for both Liverpool and Spain over the last few years and I will always play wherever the manager wants me to play. I understand Stevie has been everywhere for Liverpool…right back, left back, across the midfield and further forward. He is as complete as you can get now and there is so much I can learn from him.”

Although Pacheco admits he’d like to have featured a lot more for Liverpool so far this season, he is pragmatic on the immediate future, saying that a loan spell away from the club may give him an opportunity to prove himself at senior level.

“It is up to the club to decide,” he says. “I would like to have more chances but I am still only 19-years-old and I have plenty of time in the future. Patience is very important. When you are young and at one of the biggest clubs in the world, nobody gets into the first team easily.

“It’s always difficult making the biggest step.”

Interview by: Simon Hughes

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