How a late-blooming, record-breaking Pedro became one of the game’s most reliable forwards

How a late-blooming, record-breaking Pedro became one of the game’s most reliable forwards

Football is a game of chances. Chances to pass, chances to shoot, chances to score. Chances to come on as a substitute, chances to start, chances to impress. In order to succeed, the best will tell you that you have to take these chances, if and when they come along.

Whether you’re handed them by a Barcelona scout watching you play in the Canary Islands, by your former B team boss Pep Guardiola, or by one of your old enemies in José Mourinho, Pedro certainly hasn’t let anything pass him by, even if some of the success his career has enjoyed has gone unnoticed.

Born in Tenerife, Pedro Rodríguez didn’t move to mainland Spain until he was 17, when he was offered the golden ticket of a place at La Masia. While he was born in 1987, the tricky winger’s time in the academy didn’t coincide with Barcelona’s renowned Generation ’87, which included Lionel Messi, Gerard Piqué and Cesc Fàbregas amongst a sea of talent.

A late-bloomer of sorts, Pedro was still making the grade in the B team in the lower reaches of Spanish football while Messi was making a name for himself in front of 90,000 plus fans at the Camp Nou every other weekend. He was, however, under the tutelage of a man who would play a decisive role in his development.

With Guardiola in the dugout, Oier Olazabal in goal, Chico Flores in defence, Sergio Busquets in midfield and Pedro in attack, Barcelona B bounced straight back from relegation to Spain’s fourth tier by gaining promotion to the Segunda B via the playoffs. It was a season to remember for Pedro in particular, whose prolific form in the Tercera had earned him a call-up to play for the first team in the Copa del Rey at the age of 20.

At the end of the 2007/08 campaign, Guardiola moved to a different office, making the first-team coach’s desk his own once Frank Rijkaard had collected his things. The trophies tumbled for the Blaugrana as they completed the first treble in Spanish football history in Rome, with Pedro, puckered up by the faith of his old teacher, entrusted with seeing the Champions League home in a brief cameo against Manchester United.

However, just as he climbed the final steps to the shining gates of the first team, the silhouette of a rather tall Swedish striker blocked out some of the light. Barcelona spent €46m euros plus Samuel Eto’o to bring Zlatan Ibrahimović to the Catalan capital that summer and, with a very exciting Bojan Krkic in the midst of a rapid rise to stardom, the pressure was on Pedro to perform. After all, he wasn’t some 17-year-old prodigy.

His 22nd birthday had come and gone by the time the following season kicked off with the Supercopa de España as Barcelona headed to San Mamés to take on Athletic in the first leg. In the absence of Messi, Pedro was deployed alongside Thierry Henry and Bojan in attack – and his impact was telling. After setting Xavi up for an equaliser, the little number 27 bulged the net himself, spanking the ball into the bottom corner with a bit of swerve from the edge of the area.

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Naturally, Messi would replace Pedro in the line-up for the second leg at the Camp Nou and then the UEFA Super Cup against Shakhtar Donetsk in Monaco, although neither the Argentine nor Ibrahimović could break the deadlock against the Ukrainians. Guardiola picked Pedro as his first change on the night and, with the tie minutes from penalties in extra time, his selection was repaid and his confidence in the Spaniard justified.

After a sharp one-two with Messi on the edge of the box, Pedro hit the winner with a low right-footed strike into the bottom corner and, as the cameras focused on his celebrating teammate, the boy from Tenerife’s smile was as wide as the Atlantic. That grin was on show again as Barcelona faced more Ukrainian opposition in the Champions League, with Pedro’s left foot doing the damage against Dynamo Kyiv this time.

After August and September had proved to be particularly promising months, Pedro started October in similar fashion, netting his first goal in LaLiga with a spectacular, arrowing shot into the top corner from the left of the penalty area against Almería at the Camp Nou. As the entire crowd, including Guardiola on the touchline, were up on their feet applauding, Pedro couldn’t contain his joy as he bounded towards the corner flag, beaming from ear to ear.

Like many of his fellow academy graduates in the first team, there was something innocent about Pedro. There were no ostentatious skills, no self-centred celebrations and no off-the-field baggage – just a footballer living his childhood dream.

Pedro’s goalscoring exploits continued into the opening rounds of the Copa del Rey, putting three past Cultural Leonesa over two legs in the round of 32. The sensational streak would continue in the UAE as Barcelona began their Club World Cup campaign with victory over Mexico’s Atlante in the last four, with Pedro giving the goalkeeper the eyes in a smart finish to make it 3-1. Now, get your fingers out and go back and count the number of different competitions Pedro found the net in that campaign. Finished? Good.

That goal against Atlante in Abu Dhabi saw him become the first player in history to score in six different competitions in a single season. Not just for Barcelona, but for any team. Oh, and he scored an 89th-minute equaliser against Estudiantes in the Club World Cup final too as Guardiola’s men prevailed in extra time.

Perhaps the most important of Pedro’s 23 goals in his first full season in the first team came in a 2-0 Clásico triumph at the Bernabéu in April. Maybe the most eye-catching of the collection came at the Camp Nou a week later when Deportivo goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia cleared the ball to his feet near the centre circle. With no need for a first touch, Pedro launched it over the stranded shot-stopper and into the goal with his instep. Both of those strikes, coincidentally, were hit with his supposedly weaker left foot.

As Barcelona motored towards a second successive league title, José Mourinho put the brakes on their tilt for the Champions League. Although Pedro’s opener, again with his left peg, in the first leg at the Giuseppe Meazza looked to have given the visitors a considerable advantage, a powerful Inter wrestled Barcelona’s arm on to their side of the table before a frustrating second leg at the Camp Nou saw Mourinho have the last laugh.

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When the Portuguese coach next paid a visit to Barcelona a few months later, this time in charge of Real Madrid, he left with his reputation around his ankles. The second of five on that crazy, crazy night came courtesy of a flying Pedro as he raced past Marcelo, arms flailing by his side, to pounce on David Villa’s cross at the back post.

Of course, by then, any bond that was struck between the Barcelona and Real Madrid divides of the World Cup-winning Spain squad in South Africa that summer – a contingent that Pedro was proudly a part of, starting both the semi-final and final – was broken.

In the first of many a fixture to boil over, it was Los Blancos who the red mist descended upon. Mourinho stood in Barcelona’s way for a second successive Champions League semi-final the following spring and, even though Messi’s solo run in the Bernabeu is the long-lasting memory from that tie, it was Pedro’s second-leg contribution which proved telling. When the Spaniard slotted past Iker Casillas in the 54th-minute, Real’s hopes of mounting a comeback were dampened . They now needed three to reach Wembley.

Compared to Barcelona’s previous Champions League final with United two years prior, Pedro’s status in the squad had sprouted to the point where he’d made the right side of the attacking trident his own. Someone should’ve told the United backline that this didn’t apply to them too, though, as Pedro peeled off Nemanja Vidić to find plenty of space inside the 18-yard box 27 minutes in. He only had a split-second to execute the shot before Vidić would come across on the cover, but that was all he needed to set himself and stroke the ball into the near corner, misfooting Edwin van der Sar in goal.

A look to the blue and red hoard at the far side of the stadium, a roar of delight and a spread of his arms, or wings – it was a celebration of uncontrollable euphoria for a player who continued to take chances. Cheers of a Barcelona persuasion were heard in north London, across Catalonia and the world at that moment.

The chirpy kid from the Canary Islands with the big grin got his hands on the big-eared cup later that evening and, even when Didier Drogba, Ramires, Fernando Torres and Chelsea denied him the chance to defend it in Munich the next year, they would be reacquainted soon enough.

By the end of the 2011/12 season, Mourinho’s Real Madrid had managed to drag Barcelona off their perch in LaLiga, putting a stop to Guardiola’s era of domestic dominance. Pedro delivered Pep’s final trophy as Blaugrana boss, scoring twice in the first half of a Copa del Rey final win over Athletic at the Vicente Calderón, but truth be told, he was seeing his influence on proceedings on the pitch wane.

The arrivals of Cesc Fàbregas and Alexis Sánchez had seen the Spaniard feature less frequently, especially from the start. As a result, his rhythm in front of goal wasn’t as in tune as it had been before. When it was time for Tito Vilanova to move on at the end of the 2012/13 campaign, Pedro was on his own, without the guidance and security of two coaches who had helped shape his success in the first team.

Order  |  Barcelona

Couple that with the star signing of Neymar from Santos and the appointment of South American Tata Martino, and you might expect that initial decline in prominence and confidence to spiral. There was paper talk of a bid from Paris Saint-Germain, but Pedro stuck to his guns. “All I’m thinking about is succeeding at Barcelona,” he wrote on Twitter at the time, and he set about doing just that, missing just one league game all season and proving his form and fitness to his new boss. If Martino needed any proof that Pedro was worth starting, let alone playing, it came in abundance at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez three days before Christmas.

In the absence of Messi, Barcelona were left in a hole as Getafe raced into a two-goal lead within the first 15 minutes. It was Pedro, though, who picked up the spade and added an injection of impetus into the visitors’ play, pulling one back with a slightly fortunate lob that Ángel Moya couldn’t quite keep out. There was nothing lucky about the second or the third that followed as Pedro completed his hat-trick before half time to swing the match in the Catalans’ favour.

He wasn’t done there, either. A delicate cross found Fàbregas’s left foot to make it 4-2 before he won the penalty that the former Arsenal midfielder converted to round off the scoring at five. An exhibition of the highest quality from a player who many thought had already reached his peak but, at the age of 26, these were the defining moments of Pedro’s career.

Unfortunately for him, it was the same case with Luis Suárez, who landed at the Camp Nou with a reputation to restore following the bite in Brazil. The Uruguayan striker fixed up a fierce front three with Messi and Neymar in his first season in Spain, reducing Pedro to the role of a bit-part player more often than not. The MSN trident were the talk of the town, and pretty much everywhere else, as Luis Enrique led Barcelona to another remarkable treble. Pedro was a stoppage-time substitution in a Champions League final again and, faced with another season on the bench, it was time to go.

To his credit, the Spaniard left quite a thoughtful leaving gift. After Barcelona had squandered a 4-1 lead to be taken to extra time by Sevilla in the Super Cup in Tbilisi, Pedro struck with five minutes of extra time left, just as he had done in the 2009 edition, to turn the ticker tape blue and red. His Barcelona odyssey had a happy ending.

Two weeks later, he was gone. “We have got one of the best attacking players in the world,” gushed Mourinho after Pedro had pun pen to paper at Stamford Bridge. The Chelsea boss appreciated the winger’s guts to say goodbye to so many friends at Barcelona: “For a player like him, loved at that club and who loves the club, to want to leave because he is looking for something more for his career … that is an evident sign of ambition.”

The reigning Premier League champions were in need of some inspiration, too. They’d picked up one point from their opening two league fixtures of the season and faced a tricky trip to the Hawthorns, where they’d been dispatched 3-0 just a few months before. Pedro wasn’t one to pass up the chance to make a good first impression, squeezing in his first goal in Chelsea colours before setting up Diego Costa for a second during the first half in an eventual 3-2 victory.

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Costa was part of a splattering of Spanish internationals in the Chelsea squad, with César Azpilicueta and former Barcelona teammate Fàbregas certainly making Pedro feel at home in SW6. By mid-December, the picture had shifted considerably after a turbulent few months within the club had seen dressing room relationships reach breaking point and Mourinho sacked.

Guus Hiddink steadied the ship and one of the few positives in a campaign that ended with no qualification for European football was the performances of their new addition from Barcelona, who had adapted well to his new surroundings. At Euro 2016, Spain were trailing Italy by a single goal when Pedro was sent on with ten minutes to go. Like the rest of his teammates, he was unable to find a way past Italy’s resolute backline, which Antonio Conte had drilled to perfection.

By then, the Azzurri boss had already been confirmed as the new Chelsea coach, so any hard feelings from Spain’s last-16 defeat in Paris would have to be swept under the carpet. Given Conte’s tendency to play a 3-5-2 system in France that summer, there were some who were pondering where Pedro would fit into his plans, with Costa and Eden Hazard surely set to be the front two.

However, perhaps due to a lack of central midfield options within the squad, Conte opted for a front three the first time he deployed a back three against Hull in October. With some stunning displays against Manchester United, where he scored after seconds, Everton, where he contributed to a sizzling attacking performance, and Tottenham, where he scored a marvellous curling effort, Pedro soon ousted Willian in the starting line-up. The Spaniard’s scoring touch became a major bonus to a Chelsea team that broke records with 13 consecutive Premier League wins. In cup competitions, Pedro would often feature at as the right wing-back to allow Victor Moses a rest.

Only Costa and Hazard scored more goals in blue than the smirking, sideburned assassin that season, with perhaps his most important strike coming at Goodison Park as he lasered the ball into the top corner with his left foot from distance to give Chelsea the lead in a match that would prove decisive in their quest for another Premier League title.

That strike, like his one against Spurs earlier in the campaign, was voted Premier League Goal of the Month, meaning Pedro is one of only four players to have won the award twice and the only player to have ever picked it up twice in a single season.

After a dry first year, the trophy tap was flowing again for Pedro in England. He’s added an FA Cup and a Europa League, which he christened with a goal against Arsenal in the final in Baku, to his collection to become the first player in history to win the World Cup, European Championship, Champions League, Europa League and FA Cup.

That’s not the only line that belongs to Pedro in the history books of football at both Barcelona and Chelsea, as well as with his national team. He may not have reached the business end of Ballon d’Or talk in his prime, but this kid from Tenerife has done alright – and there’s still more to come.

By Billy Munday @billymunday08

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