Pedri, Spain’s latest midfield magician
From Las Palmas debutant to Spain international in 18 months
Now a first choice at Barcelona, he is enjoying a record-breaking season
His Roja career promises to be a long one
The last 18 months have been life-changing for Spain midfielder Pedri. On 18 August 2019, he made his first-team debut with second-division side Las Palmas at the age of only 16. On Thursday, he represented his country for the first time at senior level.
Pedri’s sudden breakthrough at Las Palmas immediately attracted the attention of Barcelona’s scouts. Moving fast before the transfer window closed, Barça signed him up and promptly loaned him back to his home club. It was the start of the meteoric rise of a player who is already making a name for himself.
The youngster is the latest in a line of distinguished midfielders to emerge from the Canary Islands, the home of David Silva, Juan Carlos Valeron and Pedro. Versatile enough to play in the inside channel or on either flank, the talented Pedri quickly made an impact when drafted into the Barcelona side and is now a first choice under coach Ronald Koeman.
Teaming up with the evergreen Lionel Messi, who continues to deliver for Barcelona, Pedri’s willingness to get on the ball and his ability to distribute it and organise the attack have made him a key cog in the Dutchman’s plans.
His numbers this season reflect that. He has scored three goals and registered six assists in the 42 matches he has played in the campaign so far – more games than any other player under the age of 22 in Europe’s top five leagues. And of those 42 appearances, the last 29 have been consecutive, a club high for the current season.
It came as little surprise to anyone, then, when Spain coach Luis Enrique called Pedri up for the start of the European qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. His character and impish ability were qualities that Enrique could not ignore, as the youngster completed a stunning rise that had taken him from the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019™ to the U-21 side and on to the full national team.
And though his full debut against Greece last Thursday ended in a disappointing 1-1 draw, Pedri showed that he is in the Spain side to stay. With his side struggling to break down the Greek defence, the Spain coach had no hesitation in bringing the young Canarian off the bench and into the fray. Though Pedri, who turns 19 in November, was unable to turn the game in his side’s favour, Enrique was pleased with his contribution.
“They marked Pedri man to man and he was unlucky," said the Spain coach. "He had to go and look for the ball, which made things difficult for him.”
The youngster is surely in line for a starting place against Georgia on Sunday or Kosovo next Wednesday. Whenever it comes, Pedri’s ability on the ball and his gift for playing the killer pass will be vital to Spain, for whom he hopes to play an inspirational part at the next UEFA EURO finals and on the road to Qatar 2022.
What they say about Pedri
Jorge Gonzalez, youth coach: “You could tell from the very first training session that he was one of the best. They told us there was this really talented kid who was going to knock our socks off and that’s what happened. Pedri was something special.”
Pepe Mel, the coach who gave him his debut at Las Palmas: “We watched the youth team when we came here and our feeling was that if he could do the same in the first team, then he could define an era. He expresses himself with the ball, he knows where he needs to be, how to position himself, and he keeps it simple and helps all his team-mates to raise their game.”
Ronald Koeman, Barcelona coach: “No-one’s surprised me more than he has. He’s in the side because he deserves to be. He plays in different positions, depending on the opposition and the tactics. He has a lot to offer because, first and foremost, he’s an intelligent player.”
Luis Enrique, Spain coach: “What I like most about him is that he’s calm, grounded and has as much to contribute in attack as in defence.”
Lionel Messi: “He’s given me some really valuable advice on how to stay focused and how to play in the spaces between defence and the midfield.”
His ambitions with the national team: “This is my first call-up. I need to enjoy it and do the best I can so I can make it back here. The most important thing is to take things in my stride and face up to the challenge. On the pitch I want to be just another player because if you do what you enjoy and have fun with it, things will work out better. I’m grateful to Koeman because I wouldn’t be here without him.”
The first time Koeman saw him: “He pulled me aside one day and said he didn’t know much about me, that he’d hardly seen me play and that I’d need to show him more of what I’m capable of in training. That motivated me.”
The next Iniesta?
Watch Pedri in action and it brings to mind Andres Iniesta, one of the greatest players Spain has ever produced. His sudden emergence on the scene is also reminiscent of Iniesta’s back in 2004/05.
Pedri is only too happy to be compared to his idol: “I never missed a game when Iniesta was playing and I’ve watched all his videos on YouTube. I suppose a bit of him’s rubbed off on me. I’ve always loved the way he plays the game and admired him as a person on and off the pitch. He’s been my role model and I’ve tried to copy him.”
Pepe Mel, who gave the youngster his professional debut, also sees the similarity: “Pedri is a lot like Iniesta. He has a great understanding of space, whether it’s allowing the full-backs to get forward or creating a numerical advantage in midfield areas.”
Roja fans see Pedri as the man who can take Spain back to the top again and perhaps even play the role Iniesta did in that golden era of 2008-12.