At the age of 25 Pedro Rodriguez has won almost every trophy possible with club and country. Triumph for Spain at this summer’s Confederations Cup in Brazil would complete the set of winners’ medals for the Barcelona forward. Now an established member of the Barca and La Roja set up it seems almost impossible to believe that we may never have seen this young talent blossom.
Despite making his debut for Blaugrana in a home win against Real Murcia in January 2008 the man from the Canary Islands was still a prominent figure in the Barcelona B team amassing only sixteen first team appearances over the 2007/08 and 2008/09 seasons. Two of those outings were in the finals of the Copa Del Rey and Champions League both as a substitute during the 08/09 treble winning season and although his future remained uncertain with the club it’s almost symbolic that this young man was getting a few minutes of first team football ( most probably to give influential figures and legends like Messi and Iniesta an ovation ) on grand stages that he would go on to take by the scruff of the neck.
The summer of 2009 proved to be a turning point in Pedrito’s career. The hierarchy at the club were willing to sell the La Masia graduate as they have with others who can’t make the cut such as: Marc Crosas, Victor Vazquez, Nolito, the list can go on. But Pep Guardiola- who managed the youngster in the reserves-understood his potential and wasn’t prepared to add another name to that list just yet. After an impressive pre-season Pedro assisted the equaliser and bagged the winner- his first goal- in Barcelona’s 2-1 first leg Super Copa victory over Athletic Bilbao at San Mames. Days later the 22-year-old signed a contract with the Catalan side until 2014. The Spaniard’s reputation soared as his 115th minute strike sunk Shakhtar Donetsk to give the Champions League winners success in the European Super Cup. It was a finish that we would become accustomed to seeing, as he latched on to Messi’s cute pass and accurately curled the ball low into the bottom right-hand corner past the keeper. 2009/10 was the perfect break though season for the canterano. He became a regular, instantly building a rapport with the fans and found the back of the net 23 times in 52 games winning four honors. Furthermore he added a record to his name- the first player in history to score in six different club competitions in the same season in a calendar year including a late leveler in the final of the World Club Championship and his first Clasico strike. So on the brink of being yet another drop-out of the cantera and of the Guardiola era Pedro immediately proved his worth.
When one thinks of Barcelona Xavi, Iniesta, Messi even Puyol spring to mind as the players that typify the club and their style of football. Pedro is just as crucial. Beyond being another small and nimble footballer- something we have got used to seeing since Guardiola’s appointment as manager- the Spanish international is the ideal fit for this team. He offers a natural wide option that David Villa, Alexis even Iniesta don’t, dragging the full back with him to the touchline giving the likes of Cesc, Xavi and Messi the space to work their magic with one less defender out of the wall they must break down. Also he can just as easily play as a predatory centre forward utilizing his ability to finish equally as well with either foot- how many times have we seen the combination Dani Alves to Pedro, GOAL! His pace is his biggest attribute and coupled with clever movement whether it’s coming inside, pulling away or spinning in behind this World Cup winner has everything to be the perfect forward. However no matter how talented one quality a footballer must have is work rate and there is no one that works as hard as the number 17. Up and down the touchline for the majority of the game, closing opponents down quickly to win the ball back within seconds it’s easy to see why Tito Vilanova stuck with him week after week despite going more than 20 games without a goal.
One thing I admire about the winger is his ability to perform on the biggest occasions. Clasicos, Champions League, semi-finals, finals- you name it, he’s there. Two goals I will always remember for different reasons are: the aforementioned World Club Championship strike and the famous opener in the Champions League final in 2011. The former came when Barcelona appeared to be down and out against Estudiantes on a frustrating day. The Argentine side gave the Catalans a rough and gritty encounter taking the lead through Mauro Boselli’s bullet header which looked set to be enough to cause an upset. With only a minute left Blaugrana needed inspiration and Pedrito- a substitute to the surprise of many- came on and provided it, connecting well Pique’s flick header to nod over the helpless Albil in goal. The players celebrated as if it was the goal that had won the competition piling up on each other, it meant that much. It was a huge goal if you consider the timing of the goal and the importance ofof the match to Barca’s pride, Barca were now favorites heading into extra-time and five minutes from the end Lionel Messi met Dani Alves’ cross and in unorthodox fashion chested home the winner- in Catalonia it’s said he scored with his heart. My other fond memory of Pedro was his goal at Wembley against Manchester United. This was a thing of beauty. A typically crisp Barcelona move starting with Iniesta’s casual one-two with Busquets. Xavi then receives the pass from the former and wanders into space as if he owns the ball with nobody making an effort to take it from him. He spots the pass to Pedro who’s movement is terrific peeling away from Nemanja Vidic. Xavi’s outside of the boot assist is weighed to perfection and now in front of goal Pedro keeps his composure to slide the ball pass Edwin Van Der Sar giving him ‘the eyes’. This calmed the final down and despite United’s equaliser it gave Barcelona the belief and assurance that more goals would follow. Even at the 2010 World Cup the little man played with no fear as Vicente Del Bosque threw him in at the deep end to play behind David Villa in the semi-final and final where he was bright, contributing to a winning team.
Without doubt the 2010/11 has so far been Pedro’s best season for his club. Barcelona lifted the Super Copa, La Liga and the Champions League with the prolific talisman at the forefront of their success in a team now considered to be the best of all time. He netted 22 times and his partnership with Messi and Villa up front bagged Barcelona more than 90 goals. In 2011/12 an injury hit season saw the European Championship winner struggle for form and with Alexis preferred to him along with the emergence of Isaac Cuenca and Cristian Tello from Barca B Pedro found himself watching games from the dugout. Towards the end of the campaign he rediscovered the form that had made the Camp Nou faithful fall in love with him scoring a brace in the final of the Copa Del Rey. It was poignant this should happen in Guardiola’s final game as Barca coach- after all regardless of his mediocrity the King of the Finals picked the right time to put in a fine performance as a way of saying thanks to the man who rescued his Barcelona career. As for this term since he latched on to Javier Macherano’s pass with a sublime touch and coolly finish passed Iker Casillas in the Super Copa Clasico Pedro experienced a goal drought snatching at opportunities looking like a player low on confidence. That was until the turn of the year whereby he has recently found his scoring touch with five strikes in January and in total has seven goals. As for the rest of the season I think we can expect a more ruthless Pedro which can only make Barcelona stronger and more dangerous.
Only 17 when he joined Barcelona’s youth team Pedro made a landmark 200th appearance for the club on Wednesday evening and aptly at one of football’s most impressive arena’s in the most glamorous fixture of them all- El Gran Clasico. You can’t help but admire a player like this who could’ve been another one of the alumni to fail at such a big club but instead has ascended to great heights in such a short space of time.
Written Ameen Rabbani