Next Generation – 'One-in-a-million' Pedri is Iniesta's heir at Barca after snow interrupted Real Madrid trial

By Ryan Benson 5 April 2020 7
Next Generation – 'One-in-a-million' Pedri is Iniesta's heir at Barca after snow interrupted Real Madrid trial

'Next Generation' is a series focusing on the young players tipped to establish themselves as the elite in the 2020s.
 

The snowfall that hit Madrid in February 2018 initially appeared worse than it was, with the seas of white that engulfed fields, pitches and gardens in Spain's capital clearing quicker than one might've expected.

It was enough to cause Real Madrid to cancel their training for the day on February 5, allowing Cristiano Ronaldo an unexpected day off on his birthday – though daily sports publication AS were particularly critical of the club for essentially shutting down with a crucial Champions League tie with Paris Saint-Germain little more than a week away.

As it happened, Madrid went on to claim a third successive European crown, so the issue of a day off almost certainly won't have been raised again. However, it was this snowfall that proved a major disruption to the trial of a kid from the Canary Islands who was "about to sign", according to his father.

Pedri, 15 at the time, did not join Real Madrid. While he may have been shown the cold shoulder amid the snowfall, the midfielder subsequently signed with local side Las Palmas… And then Barcelona came calling.

Made for Barca

A diminutive, but effortlessly silky midfielder, it's little wonder Pedri will end up at Barca. "I have that Barca DNA," he said to EFE in his first major interview after his move was confirmed. "My desire is to resemble [Andres] Iniesta. I have always said he is my idol and he'll remain that until I die."

Pedri's rise has been impressive. In a little over a year, he progressed through the Juvenil A, B and Division de Honor teams in Las Palmas' academy before being introduced into the first-team picture just last year for pre-season.

He's now an undisputed starter at 17 – he initially didn't expect to even reach the Division de Honor team in 2019-20.

Las Palmas had been cautious about showing him off too early, aware that such a talent would immediately attract offers. Instead, they reportedly waited until they had him secured to a professional contract with a €30million release clause and then promised they'd sell him to an interested party straight away.

Barca made their move in September. An initial €5m could become €25m should Pedri meet certain criteria at Camp Nou – and at this point, few would bet against him making a lasting impression in Catalonia.

Once again Real Madrid were left frustrated, with a second attempt to sign Pedri coming too late – not that they would have necessarily been successful otherwise, as the teenager's father is the president of a local Barcelona supporters' club, which his grandfather founded.

"Barca DNA" indeed.

"One in a million"

Pepe Mel was the coach who put his faith in Pedri last year, the experienced tactician clearly stunned by the youngster's abilities.

"Look at this boy, because he's one in a million and he doesn't know it," Mel said at the time. "He will define a new era in Spanish football."

A bold prediction of one so young, but Pedri has taken to first-team football with immense comfort, his performances in La Segunda this season suggesting he's ready for LaLiga straight away and that Mel's foretelling might be on the money.

It had been expected that Pedri would spend another season on loan in the second tier with Las Palmas, or move to Barca's B team if they get promoted to the Segunda.

But now he is attracting loan interest from LaLiga clubs and appears set for a chance to impress first-team coaching staff in pre-season, whenever the coronavirus pandemic permits that period to be.

Shouldering the burden

While he possesses the skillset to play virtually anywhere across the midfield, by his own admission Pedri is most effective in the centre where he can take the game to the opposition, exploit gaps in defences and dazzle with his close dribbling.

Despite his age, Pedri has been a key player for Las Palmas this season, scoring three goals and setting up another four. Six of those goal involvements came in the first 10 matches of the campaign, highlighting there has been a bit of a dip in terms of overall productivity – though he's still proven effective.

Despite missing a chunk of the season to take part in the Under-17 World Cup in October and November, Pedri has played more league matches ( 26 ) than anyone else for Las Palmas this term and his 52 chances created is unmatched among team-mates. Only eight players in the entire league have produced more key passes.

Nineteen Segunda players have attempted more dribbles than Pedri's 83, but only two of them can improve on his 57 per cent completion rate.

And of 1,014 attempted passes, 80 per cent have found a team-mate. While by no means a startling statistic, context is key – many of those with better records on the face of it are central defenders or players operating in less-congested areas of the pitch than Pedri.

What's clear is, Pedri's already operating at a very high level for a 17-year-old. With many of Barca's midfield options aging, seemingly on their way out or unconvincing, an opportunity could present itself for him sooner rather than later. 

Snow may have prevented a move to Madrid two years ago, but Pedri can surely look forward to many frosty receptions in Clasico contests during the 2020s.

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Ryan Benson

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