The player who has surprised me the most in the World Cup? Several from Morocco, but the one who surprised me the most is Pedri. He’s like Harry Potter… He does magic. He’s insane, I don’t know how to explain it. He surprised me but at the same time he didn’t,” said Spain’s former coach, Luis Enrique, during a Twitch stream, the preferred streaming platform of the coach who had his tenure stopped after the penalty shoot-out loss against Morocco in the Round of 16 at Qatar 2022.
Spain definitely loves their midfielders and has always been paying attention to the next Xavi, the next Iniesta, or the next Pep Guardiola. Surely, ushering inexperienced players in the middle of the park, exactly where Spain is strong, might be suicidal at times, but with players like Pedri, the transition looks seamless.
The 20-year-old midfielder has been nothing short of superb during the UEFA EURO 2021 and the FIFA World Cup 2022 for Spain, as he is the exact prototype of the Spanish midfielder that understands the game perfectly and can deliver excellent clear-cut passes, as well as building up the game.
In the space of only two years, Pedri has gone from an unknown quantity to a leader for both Barcelona and Spain, despite his build being quite lanky and short for a modern footballer right now. Yet his football IQ is next to none and will surely help Spain return to the best sides in the world in no time if he continues to play like this.
Sure, Luis Enrique’s praise might fall on deaf years now, especially as the former coach did not have his contract renewed after the painful elimination, while fans are definitely saddened and even shocked by losing in the Round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup for the second time in a row, especially against an underdog like Morocco.
Yet what is the story behind that astonishing rise to prominence for Pedri, as until two years ago he had not even played in Spain’s top league, La Liga, only featuring for Las Palmas in the second division?
“If we’re talking pure talent, he’s the best in the world,” said Pedri’s coach from Barcelona, Xavi Hernandez, another huge praise from the ex-player who helped Spain win two UEFA EURO tournaments and the 2010 FIFA World Cup. When Xavi doubled down and said Pedri is even better than his former teammate, Andres Iniesta, it looked like a sacrilege.
But why would two excellent coaches lie about Pedri’s potential and talent? Would not the 20-year-old be infatuated with praise and just coast during his career? Therefore, Luis Enrique and Xavi might be onto something.
Born in the Canary Islands city of Las Palmas, Pedri was always going to be destined to be a football player. His grandfather was the president of the local fan club of Barcelona and the midfielder grew in a blau-grana household.
His idol was, well, Iniesta, whom he tried to model his game after. Other players from the Canary Islands were Juan Carlos Valeron and David Silva, both midfielders, both having the same style, trying to pause the game and then open it up with a magistral pass.
But his ascension to greatness was not easy. A trial at Real Madrid went bad because of the pitch, which was covered by snow. Villarreal, Deportivo La Coruna and Tenerife passed on the chance of signing him, in part because he was deemed too small to deliver on the biggest of stages.
Yet Barcelona, who had the experience of this type of midfielders, relished the chance of enabling Pedri to be great on his own account. And great he became. When he made his debut for Spain, in 2021, he had only played 26 matches for Barcelona.
After featuring for Barcelona, Spain and the Spain Under-23 national team in 2021, racking up 73 matches in a single calendar year, Pedri was named the Golden Boy of the year, the best Under-21 player in the world.
“Recently, I think there’s been a turn towards the player who runs more than the player who is technical, who understands the game. Football is becoming more robotic but there are still those who break that rule. 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,” said Pedri for “The Guardian”.
Indeed, he acknowledged that Barcelona and Spain have the perfect system for a player his quality. Whether he will make the next step and become one of the all time greats, confirming his potential, there is still to be seen.
Yet the start has been nothing short of amazing.