When Pedri was rumoured to sign for F.C Barcelona in 2020, the Spaniard was a stranger to the international scene. From Las Palmas and playing in the midfield, the sixteen-year-old made the headlines as Barcelona’s scouts were after him. Fast forward two years and the Spaniard is now certain to be starting for Spain at the World Cup. Furthermore, Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez claims Pedri to be “essential” for his team. A supernova?
Pedri’s beginnings were not the astronomical boom many would expect from him today. Coutinho had just returned from a season-long loan at Bayern Munich following Koeman’s request. The Dutchman was planning a reboot of the Brazilian as an advanced midfielder. If performances hadn’t convinced, Coutinho finally went down injured early in the season. Ronald Koeman did not know what to do with a key piece of his gone, not trusting homegrown, made in La Masia talent Riqui Puig: The Dutchman finally decided to give a chance to the new recruit: Pedri.
“I still play to enjoy myself. I always do and that’s the best thing a footballer can do. If you’re enjoying it, you’re going to play much better.”-Pedri, on risk-taking in “an increasingly robotic game”
If there’s one aspect of Pedri’s game that make him stand out in front of other teenagers, it is his calmness. On and off the field, his close circles have often described the Spaniard as a laid-back, calm and composed teenager. And that is the football he plays, too. He impressed from the first months, as he brought the calm in the storm. His press-resistance allows both Barcelona and La Roja to breathe oxygen when the opponent’s pressing suffocates. It’s not rare for Pedri to have said to not feel the pressure of playing for F.C Barcelona. Equally so on the pitch, getting Pedri out of his regular temperament is hard, very hard.
“Pedri gives us that pause, he doesn’t lose the ball, he’s always well positioned, he uses both feet. He dominates space and time perfectly: he’s a superlative player.”-Xavi
Barcelona took Pedri, but what many had not seen coming, is his rapid evolution. The midfielder started out as an advanced midfielder at Barcelona, maybe even an inverted winger at times: His through-balls amazed culés, instantly. As time went by, Pedri learned when to unleash terrific dribbles, or those line-breaking passes. Soon, under Xavi, he became essential and undroppable, the latter since the Koeman days. For some, a splendid dribbler. For others, Barcelona’s newly-discovered metronome. In his first professional season, Pedri played over seventy games, an anomaly. Injuries followed, and Barcelona suffered. Without him, Barcelona seemed unable to control, to get games going in their own terms. And soon, the Spaniard, precisely since Xavi, added a new weapon to his arsenal: Shooting.
There were not many criticisms of Pedri in his first season: Still, some though that if he improved his shooting he’d be unstoppable. With Gavi rising the ranks with Xavi, the Catalan coach requested from his midfielders more goal contributions. As always, Pedri leaned his head towards the ball and applied the last instructions. Many will remember his goal against Galatsaray: One player down, a fake shot, another players down, the final killer shot. Pedri had once again improved, and the pattern repeated itself. It was clear for Barcelona fans: Nothing could stop Pedri now. Pedri understood the new instructions, and applied them. And in spite of all the glory, Pedri’s interest remained the same: To learn and to play.
“Xavi has a very clear idea, model: he is very clear about what each of us have to do: the inside midfielders have to be between the lines, the ball moved from one side to the other. The things he did when he played – and it was spectacular watching him – he tries to inculcate in us. The interiores have to hold our position. If you get out of position, then when you lose the ball you can’t press the way you need to: you won’t get there. He also wants the interiores to turn, face the opposition goal.”-Pedri
Little are those with Pedri’s maturity and his age. Furthermore, he was not homegrown, unlike the likes of Gavi, Ansu Fati or Sergio Busquets. However, Pedri has repeatedly quoted Andrés Iniesta as his go-to inspiration throughout his early years as a child. He originally, like many, started playing in the streets, under the Spanish hot sun. For his friends like his parents, he was the one child to always play football. He rarely involved himself into fights or arguments: He only wanted the ball. And that hasn’t changed.
“ We would go down to Bajamar and play. Anywhere: the beach, on the courts, the concrete in front of the house, anywhere there was space. There were bollards to stop the cars and that would be one goal, a T-shirt the other.-Pedri
Enjoying yourself, the new Carpe Diem of Pedri, is what will always define his character on and off the pitch. Pedri glides with the ball past his marker, notably for his turns, but also the anticipation he holds before winning the psychological battle against his opponent. He likes to get involved in the play, because that’s what children like to do: Play with the ball. Fortunately, he rarely goes without the ball, as Barcelona has turned him into the number one motorway to the final third. Pedri holds the classical technical midfielder tag most skinny Spanish young players get nowadays: And rightly so. For from various trials that included Real Madrid, Villarreal or Tenerife: But only Las Palmas took him, finally.
“The climate influences it and wherever you go in the Canaries you take a ball. You can tell that in that footballing identity; people who like to dribble, to have the ball, enjoy themselves with it.”-Pedri
Independent of all the Iniesta comparisons, Pedri has kept his head low and will continue to do so: After learning to control time, he’s still made aware he can still improve, that the Spanish Dream is far from over: He learns from Xavi as his coach but also from Sergio Busquets, his own teammate:
“He has to hold, attract, leave someone else one-on-one: we know he can face five, six and clean them out. You have to attract opponents, be able to go alone.”-Pedri, on Sergio Busquets