While there have been a long line of pretenders aspiring to the Barcelona midfield crown worn with such distinction by Xavi and Andres Iniesta, few have caused as much excitement as the precociously talented teenager from the small town of Tegueste on the island of Tenerife.
He is still a week shy of his 18th birthday, yet when starting a Champions League match against Juventus and then El Clasico last month, Pedri showed the world what Barcelona have known for the best part of two years – that he represents the future of a club in transition.
Two recent moments reflect that: the way he avoided pressure in Turin by doing a roulette turn made famous by Zinedine Zidane and an audacious backheel pass to Antoine Griezmann in a league game against Real Betis.
It would be nice to assume that Barcelona are nurturing homegrown talent as a reversion to a long-held ideal. The reality, however, is that this is a decision based primarily on financial pragmatism.
In short, Barcelona are skint and need to reduce costs by 190m euros, mostly in first-team wages. Pedri fits very nicely into the ethos, now returning to the club, of bringing through young players who can play the Barcelona way, rather than spending fortunes on the open market, which is something they have struggled to do successfully in recent years.
Whatever the route, Barcelona have got lucky with Pedri, via a combination of circumstances.
To start with, despite hailing from the island of Tenerife some 2,200km from the Nou Camp, Pedri and his entire family have always been Barcelona fans to the bone. His grandfather founded the Tegueste branch of the Barcelona Supporters’ Club and it has been reported that in his home, even the dinner plates bear the club badge.
Pedri (right) made his professional debut for Las Palmas in August 2019 in a second-tier defeat by Huesca – about two weeks before Barcelona agreed to sign him
His agent, Hector Peris, was actually pursuing a different player who alerted him to the talents of Pedri. Soon after, he was invited to go on trial at Real Madrid at the age of 15.
Then nature took a hand. The week of the trial coincided with a massive snowfall in the Spanish capital and the suspension of training. Eventually he did train with the club but with a different team, a different set of coaches and for just a couple of days. Real Madrid told him they would keep an eye on how he was progressing but at that point the young player slipped under their radar.
What followed were a couple of offers, one from Deportivo la Coruna and the one he took from Las Palmas, where the style of football – not to mention the convenient geographical location – suited him perfectly.
Before the season had started at Las Palmas, director of football Rocco Maiorino contacted his friend Ramon Planes to tell him about Pedri.
Planes – now Barcelona’s director of football, but then number two to Eric Abidal in that department – went to see him. By all accounts, he knew within minutes that Pedri was the real deal.
A deal was soon reached, at the beginning of September 2019. Pedri would join Barcelona the following July, and would stay at Las Palmas until then.
Pedri was already a Las Palmas first-teamer when the Barca deal was agreed, having made his debut, aged 16 years and 266 days, in a 1-0 Segunda Division home defeat by Huesca on 18 August. Over the 2019-20 season, he clocked up more minutes for Las Palmas (2,833) than anyone else, playing 36 games.
The deal that suited everyone. Las Palmas had huge financial problems and the 5m euros on offer would come in very handy. For Barcelona, it was a fantastic opportunity to strike before the player became a superstar in the second tier.
Las Palmas will also receive 15% of any resale, not that that is going to happen anytime soon. On making it into the Barcelona first team, Pedri’s exit clause rose to 400m euros.
For Barca, he ticks so many boxes. He plays between the lines, is hungry for the ball and when he gets it is great at keeping possession in the part of the pitch where the pressure is at its most intense.
And yet the main difference between Pedri and some of the promising graduates from the club’s La Masia youth set-up is the very fact he does not come from a big academy. The year he has spent in the Las Palmas first team has given him a streetwise quality that so many La Masia graduates lack.
His game features things learned not from meticulous planning or from structured situations but rather aspects of the game instinctively acquired in the street and also in the heat of battle.
By the time he caught the attention of clubs around the world by starring for Spain in the Under-17 World Cup in Brazil a year ago, Barcelona already had him signed and sealed, if not quite yet delivered.
Since then he has featured 11 times for his country in all age groups from under-17 to under-21. It can only be a matter of time before he gets the call-up to Spain’s first team.
Several foreign clubs, including Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Monchengladbach, started to form an orderly queue, as did a host of Spanish clubs (Huesca, Elche, Eibar to name but three) and PSV also made a serious offer.
Bayern made an approach a day after humiliating Barcelona 8-2 in the Champions League on 14 August. By video call, the German champions asked if the result might change Barca’s mind about letting him go out on loan. Pedri’s contract stated two possibilities; a spell out away or a place in the first-team squad. The more new manager Ronald Koeman saw him train, the more impressed he was.
While publicly, in order to remove some of the pressure on the youngster, Koeman was stating that he would benefit from a loan spell, privately he assured him he was going nowhere and was very much a part of his future plans.
As football in Spain halted during the Covid-19 shutdown, much time was spent working on the player’s physique in an attempt to build up his lower body strength so he can deal with the physical rigours he will face. Barcelona look at Sergio Aguero as an example to follow.
Away from the pitch, Pedri is quiet and reserved, the product of a humble, unassuming family. He lives with his brother and almost every weekend his parents visit from the Canary Islands.
The family kept him grounded before his first El Clasico on 24 October. The match against Real Madrid kicked off at 4pm; at 2.15pm, he was asked by his mother to serve Spanish omelette to all the family before being picked up 15 minutes later by the taxi that would take him to the Nou Camp.
After the match the same taxi, driven by a family friend, brought him home again. A photograph of him being ferried home appeared in the Spanish media and promptly went viral. Pedri’s taxi days are now done. Until he passes his driving test, he has been allocated a club driver.
It is a small change but it speaks volumes: he has moved to another level.
Koeman is an immensely demanding coach and Pedri has not fallen short with anything he has done, in any of the three midfield positions behind the striker in which he has been used.
Lionel Messi is among those enormously impressed by the youngster’s approach and humility. They are beginning to link up well, with Pedri happy to use some of the space that Messi creates between the lines, especially on the left.
His performance against Juventus was indeed excellent, but was the Catalan media’s reaction to his display a tad over the top? Maybe, yet it is probably an indication of the desperation from the local media, club and fans to find new heroes.
Have no doubts, though: Pedri – along with Ansu Fati, now unfortunately sidelined for the next few months – represents the future of Barcelona. Perhaps even their salvation.