It was not so very long ago that Pedro Rodriguez was a little-known youngster trying to make the leap from Barcelona’s vaunted youth system to the first-team. Adapting immediately to life alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Xavi, the flying wide man made a valuable contribution to Barça’s record-breaking 2009, a year in which they won all six trophies they contested, and then chipped in as Spain triumphed at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Talking exclusively to FIFA.com about his meteoric rise, the level-headed 24-year-old also gave his views on the significance of the FIFA Club World Cup and Barcelona’s ongoing quest for excellence.
FIFA.com: Pedro, the 2009 FIFA Club World Cup was your first major title. What are your memories of that tournament?
Pedro: Very happy ones. It was a really important tournament for me because I scored in the semi-final and the final, which contributed to us winning the title and also helped me achieve a record by scoring in every competition we played in that year. It was a fantastic event and keenly contested too. I enjoyed it a lot.
Estudiantes made life very hard for Barcelona in the final.
We knew it was going to be tough all the way through the competition. People sometimes underestimate the teams who take part in it because they’ve never heard of them, but they got that far for a reason. We were up against it in that match and though we never let our heads drop, we found it really tough to get back in the game. We got there in the end, though, and we managed to get our hands on a trophy we’d never won before. That’s why we wanted it so badly.
Your career has taken off since then. Did you expect to go so far in such little time?
I’ve always been ambitious, I’ve always wanted to play and I knew I had talent. To be honest, though, I never expected things to work out so well for me. I’ve had a fantastic few years with some wonderful team-mates and it’s been brilliant to have all this success with them.
Having won the trophy a couple of years ago, are you just as excited about Japan 2011?
It goes without saying that winning the Club World Cup is never easy, and we’re going to give everything we’ve got to try and do it again. We know we’ll be up against some tough teams like Santos, who’re a fantastic side and play some really attractive football. We can’t forget about Monterrey either. We know through experience that Mexican teams always battle hard, defend as a unit, and hit quickly on the break. We don’t know much about the other sides, but we’ve still got time to take a good look at them.
Talking of Santos, Neymar has been linked a lot in the press lately with a possible move to Spain. How do you rate him?
I’ve never come up against him on the pitch unfortunately, but I know he’s very fast and very much at home on the wing. He’s got a good shot on him, he’s two-footed and he knows where the goal is. All in all he’s a fantastic player and we’ll need to watch out for him for sure.
Do you think Barcelona have improved this year?
The team’s always had a lot of talent and we’ve always had fantastic players. I think the arrival of Cesc (Fabregas) and Alexis (Sanchez) and the emergence of Thiago has made us a bit more compact this year, and we’ve got a little more strength in depth, with players who can come off the bench and change games. The new guys have all brought something new to the team too. Alexis can get past people on the flank, Cesc’s versatile and focused and brings balance to the team, and Thiago’s very dynamic.
Their arrival could mean fewer opportunities for you.
There’s always been a lot of competition for places in the team and a tremendous amount of quality up front, but that’s good because we’re stronger and our opponents bring out the best in us. I don’t have a problem with rotating either because everyone’s got something to offer. We want to win a lot of titles and to do that we need all the quality we can get.
Should Barcelona be regarded as favourites to win every competition they play in?
I think so because we’ve got a fantastic team, though we need to be clear in our minds that there are no easy games and no easy competitions. It gets tougher every year and we need to take each game as it comes. It’s a long road, with ups and downs along the way, but we’re up for the challenge.
Everyone knows how the team plays now. Does that make it harder?
A little bit. Everyone plays the same way against us. They sit deep and wait for a mistake. But we know what we’re up against and we’re ready. What we have to do is stay calm because that’s the only way we can maintain our standards through the season.
Barcelona have won the lot. Is the motivation still as high as it was?
Absolutely. You only have to look at the more experienced players, who are as hungry for success as they’ve always been. It’s impossible to train alongside someone like Carles Puyol and not feed off his desire and ambition.
Finally, what do you think has made you the success story you are today?
I spent a lot of time playing when I was a boy, first with my friends and then with my club, and the most important thing for me has been to keep on working hard. Obviously I’ve learned a lot with Barcelona because they’ve got some great coaches, and at the end of the day that’s what counts: to keep on learning. Every time a new player comes into the team I try to watch them and see how they do things, and when you’re playing alongside the best players in the world week in week out then something has to rub off on you (laughs).