PEDRI, Spain’s Latest Wonderkid

First published on People’s Daily News here

Italy 1-0 Spain

Once Italy took the lead, they returned to their roots–’catenaccio’, all men behind the ball. Spain could find no breakthrough. All their attempts to penetrate the Azzuri’s block were thwarted: misplaced passes, backpasses, cheeky fouls, time-wasting. Amidst this drab sequence, Martin Tyler found space to reflect and continue his adoration of Pedri–the youngest player on the pitch. The 70-minute mark had passed, and Barcelona’s youngster had not misplaced a single pass. By his admission:

“Before this tournament, I had never seen Pedri play…I will never forget him.”

-Martin Tyler-EURO 2020 during the semi-final match between Italy and Spain

Yet this feat was not even Pedri’s most significant contribution in the match. In the sequence to Morata’s equaliser, Pedri’s movement off-the-ball lured Jorghino out of position, which created ‘acres’ of space for Morata to receive the ball behind the Italian midfield line. For the thousands watching him for the first time, his brilliance did not go unnoticed. 

So, who exactly is Pedro González López?

Pedri is a Spanish player born in Tenerife, one of the islands in the enthralling Spanish archipelago. He joined Las Palmas’s youth academy, a team based in Segunda División, in 2018 when he was fifteen. Within a year of his arrival, he was promoted to the first team by Pepe Mel–the Las Palmas manager and signed his first professional contract. 

Pedri’s talent was evident. Executives at Las Palmas informed Real Madrid about the player, hoping to secure some money from his sale to stabilise their finances. Real Madrid obliged and offered him a trial; however, ‘heavy snowfall’ prevented him from seizing the opportunity–Pedri could not complete the trial. Los Blancos’s loss soon became a nightmare. A year later, FC Barcelona snapped up the talented youngster for a base fee of 5 million Euros. It was a coup, one worth cherishing for many years to come. Pedri spent the rest of the 2019/2020 season on loan at Las Palmas.

FC Barcelona Introduce New Player Pedro Gonzalez Lopez - 'Pedri' : News Photo
BARCELONA, SPAIN – AUGUST 20: New FC Barcelona player Pedro Gonzalez Lopez ‘Pedri’ poses with the shirt during his unveiling at Camp Nou on August 20, 2020 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

Pedri’s eventual arrival in Barcelona was met with gloom: Messi expressed his desire to leave the club, the club’s financial turmoil, a power struggle at the hierarchy, and a trophyless season. Nevertheless, this uncertainty provided a peculiar opportunity for the 18-year-old to showcase his talent. 

Earlier that summer, Barcelona turned to Ronald Koeman to stabilise their rear guard. In his first press address, Koeman expressed his desire to play possession football with a characteristic increased intensity off the ball–akin to many other elite clubs worldwide. 

“In general, what has to change is that the team has to play with more intensity….I think it is the moment to give opportunities to the young players who deserve it…I think they have quality but it is also true that you have to have balance.”

-Ronald Koeman, Barcelona’s manager-August 2020
Villarreal v FC Barcelona - La Liga Santander : News Photo
CASTELLON, SPAIN – APRIL 25: coach Ronald Koeman of FC Barcelona, Pedri of FC Barcelona during the La Liga Santander match between Villarreal v FC Barcelona at the Estadio de la Ceramica on April 25, 2021 in Castellon Spain (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

In Pedri, Koeman would find this exquisite blend of lung-bursting stamina, technical excellence, and football intelligence to facilitate the high-intensity possession football he sought to bring to the club. It was a harmony aching to be played. Pedri made his debut on the 27th of September 2020. He played in all but one of Barcelona’s league games last season, racking up 2441 minutes (the equivalent of 27 90s). The youngster proved to be a key player in Barcelona’s league run-in–remarkable for a player in his first season in the top-flight of football at one of the best clubs in the world.

As Martin Tyler affirmed, Pedri plays with a poise akin to a veteran player. He plays at the game on a different wavelength, steps ahead of the opposition. This ability to recognise, utilise and create space has earned him comparisons to Iniesta. ‘La pausa’. Pedri receives the ball immaculately in all phases of possession, yet he is not indiscriminate in his ball usage. He is very disciplined and knows when to stay away from the ball to open passing lanes to his teammates and allow progression. His football IQ is unbelievable for a player his age.

“I have never seen an 18-year-old boy play like I have seen Pedri in this tournament, not even Don Andreas Iniesta. It’s a crazy thing. You have to take good care of him.”

-Luis Enrique, Spain’s national team manager-July 2021

Since Enrique caught a glimpse of Pedri’s ability, he has not looked back. Pedri was first called up for Spain’s world cup qualifiers in March. Merely four months later, he became Spain’s youngest ever player at the European Championships and one of their most important players in the competition–playing all but one minute of their semi-final run. The remarkable poise and intelligence he showed all season with Barcelona were on full display to the world. 

In Enrique’s 4-3-3 formation, Pedri played on the left side of the middle three as a lynchpin between the midfield and attack. His role was crucial to their final third progression, where he consistently found either the LB or LW in space. In the latter parts of the tournament, however, Enrique fine-tuned his system. He had Jordi Alba staying inverted, which granted Pedri license to roam higher in the final third of the pitch and link up with the forwards. Pedri transferred his skill set to this more advanced role with ease. As a testament to his versatility, he also played as the deepest midfielder, a wide playmaker, a box-box midfielder, and the most advanced midfielder this season–excelling in all of them.

Slovakia v Spain - UEFA Euro 2020: Group E : News Photo
SEVILLE, SPAIN – JUNE 23: Pedri of Spain is challenged by Lukas Haraslin of Slovakia during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group E match between Slovakia and Spain at Estadio La Cartuja on June 23, 2021 in Seville, Spain. (Photo by Aitor Alcalde – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

In all these positions, Pedri’s showed his ability to cover large distances and play a significant part in his team’s defensive organisation. Pedri was in the 96th percentile of pressures completed by midfielders in the top 5 European leagues–averaging 25 pressures per 90 (per Fbref via StatBomb). As if this were not enough evidence of his incredible work rate, by the semis of EURO2020, Pedri had covered the most distance of all players in the competition–a staggering 75 KM in just five games. These staggering features are a testament to his incredible engine and willingness to make an impact off the ball, areas crucial to the modern game.

In Pedri, Barcelona has unearthed their next midfield metronome; Spain has found their next footballing hero, and the footballing world has found their next heartthrob–a player with maturity and guile beyond his generation. 

We are looking at one of the world’s next superstars.

Featured Image BARCELONA, SPAIN – MAY 16: Pedri of FC Barcelona looks on during the La Liga Santander match between FC Barcelona and RC Celta at Camp Nou on May 16, 2021 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

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