Every generation, the world of football is blessed with a handful of talents that come to define the game. These stars are not just serial winners, but rather those who redefine their positions and the tactical philosophies embedded within them.
In the 2010s, Spain’s great central midfielder led by goalkeeper Iker Casillas was a collection of such players, anchored by the midfield duo of Iniesta and Xavi. Perfectly posed, the pair that was built at La Masia’s famed academy controlled games with precision and delicacy. Hardworking but elegant in possession, Iniesta and Xavi have become a role model for the modern midfielder. At club level, their brilliance would take a back seat with the spotlight on Lionel Messi, as the trio formed the heart of Pep Guardiola’s treble dynasty. Last summer, Messi’s departure from Camp Nou marked the end of an era as the club lost the last piece of their timeless trident. Questions have been asked about Messi’s heir and whether Barcelona would adapt to the dynamism and speed of teams like Bayern Munich and Liverpool. A club that seemed faded and lost needed new hope, but no one would have expected it to come in the form of a shy teenager from the Canary Islands.
Born on the island of Tenerife, Pedri Gonzalez grew up in a family that loved FC Barcelona to the point that his plates bore the design of the club badge. At a young age, Pedri joined the local CF Juventud Laguna youth academy where he immediately stood out among his teammates. Ayoze Hernandez, the academy coach at the time, said Pedri’s tenacious style of play frustrated opposing coaches as he would dictate play from all parts of the pitch.
At just 15, the talented youngster was already showing signs of being a mature player and was given a trial at Real Madrid. In February 2018, during his trial, the Spanish capital was hit by heavy snowfall and the academy was closed. During that week, Pedri was only able to train twice and was deemed unfit to continue at the club who could have signed him on a free transfer.
In May 2018, second division side Las Palmas signed Pedri for their youth team where he continued to develop. The following year, Pedri got his first professional contract at the age of 16 and was quickly promoted to the first team after impressing head coach Pepe Mel. After making his debut in August 2019, Pedri became Las Palmas’ youngest goalscorer as rumors spread of a young midfield wonderkid. At the start of this season, FC Barcelona secured his signing for a modest €5m as Pedri would join the Catalan giants the following season.
Ahead of the 2020-21 season, many expected Barca to loan Pedri out so he could gain first-team experience before returning to Camp Nou. During pre-season, however, Ronald Koeman was blown away by Pedri’s tactical maturity and skill set, deciding to include him in the first team. During his first few weeks, Pedri sometimes traveled to matches by taxi as he was too young to drive and the club did not expect to have to accommodate him. Although he made his official debut with a substitute appearance in a 4-0 win over Villarreal, his first real performance would be in El Classico against Real Madrid. Despite losing 3-1, Pedri was praised for his ability to tame Vinícius Júnior. on the wing and take on veteran midfielders Toni Kroos and Luka modrhere.
Four days later, Pedri would star in a 2-0 Champions League win over Juventus where the youngster achieved an impressive passing accuracy rate of 95 per cent and showed incredible spatial awareness as he drifted in and out. from midfield to open up space for Messi.
If there was any doubt about Pedri’s claim to the title of the next king of Spain‘s midfield, that was settled in the summer of 2021. Pedri represented Spain at the Euros where the loss to the Italy would send La Roja, the Spanish national team, home in the semi-finals. A few weeks later, Pedri traveled to Tokyo for the Olympics, where he failed in the gold medal game against Brazil. By the end of the summer, which saw Messi leave for PSG, Pedri had played over 1,068 minutes of international football, but the teenager showed no signs of slowing down.
Fast forward to today and Pedri is an invaluable part of Barca’s setup. The 2021-22 season hasn’t started as planned for the club, and Ronald Koeman has been sacked after failing to show consistency in the league. The appointment of club legend Xavi as manager has excited fans who were hoping to see a revival of Barcelona style. Heavy losses to Benfica and Bayern Munich meant Barca were knocked out in the group stage for the first time since the 2000-01 season, when Xavi was an upcoming talent himself.
Since Xavi’s arrival, Pedri has been given permission to operate as Barcelona’s creative centerpiece. As a player, Pedri lacks physicality, weighing just 132 pounds, but his short stature gives him unparalleled agility on the ball. Like Iniesta, Pedri’s value to the team isn’t visible in the overused goals and assists stats, but rather in the numbers more deeply woven into the fabric of every game. For example, Pedri’s involvement in the finishing streak was an impressive 6.2 per 90 minutes, ahead of teammate Sergio Busquets and Real Betis star Nabil Fekir. In his first season, Pedri made 26 key pre-assist passes – defined as the pass to the player who assists the goal – and only tracked Messi himself.
Last month, Pedri rocked the Santiago Bernabéu in a 4-0 thrashing against Real Madrid as the 19-year-old showed glimpses of his jaw-dropping passing ability. On April 3 against Sevilla, Pedri scored one of the first goals of the season as he sat two Sevilla players down before delivering a powerful low kick from outside the box. Now second in La Liga and favorites to win the Europa League, Barcelona look like a reborn side and Pedri deserves much of the praise for this turnaround. It’s clear that Spain’s new No.10 will lead his country and Barcelona into the future, and fans can only dream of what else he will bring to the game.