One year ago to the day (Monday) Juanjo Narvaez scored a fairly important goal. In stoppage time of Las Palmas’ match he collected a pass that played him through on goal, he took a touch that perhaps made him go a little wide, and then fired the ball into the net.
It put Las Palmas 2-0 up against Ponferradina in Spain’s Segunda Division. The two teams had come into the match separated by just two points, putting them five and three points away from relegation to the third tier respectively. Narvaez would add a third just two minutes later to give Las Palmas a much-needed win. The team from the Canary Islands would go on to take seven points from their last four games and end up finishing all the way up in ninth, although a gap of just six points between themselves and the relegation zone shows just how close they were to what would have been a catastrophic demotion.
The pass for Narvaez’s game-clinching goal? That came from a 17-year-old kid who was set to link up with the likes of Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and of course Lionel Messi at Barcelona in just a few months’ time. The pass came from Pedro Gonzalez Lopez, or as we know him, Pedri.
After helping his local club stay in the second division the teenager moved to a team in extreme turmoil, with Messi wanting to leave and the club having fired two managers in the same season. Hardly an ideal development ground for a player with Pedri’s potential. It was speculated that he might move out on loan to get a solid season of football.
A year later here we are. Pedri has played a starring role for Barcelona in a difficult season and has now shone as Spain’s best player of Euro 2020 so far, helping Luis Enrique’s discombobulated side to reach the semi-finals, where they will face Italy.
It is honestly ridiculous to see a kid of 18 dominate Europe’s midfields like this. Jude Bellingham has rightly gained plenty of plaudits for what he has been able to achieve in his first season in Germany. But Pedri is only seven months older and is already a nailed-on starter for one of the biggest clubs in the world and a national team that recently won three international tournaments in a row – it is utterly absurd.
Much like Bellingham it’s the maturity that really stands out in Pedri’s game. He’s calm and poised in possession, he rarely wastes the ball and nearly always makes the right decision. The awareness might be what makes you sit up and take notice. Even at such a young age Pedri has an incredible understanding of the game. You can see it in the way he uses his body as well as the ball to manipulate the space and opposition players. It allows him to get his team-mates into better positions to keep an attack going. So far in this tournament only four players have completed more passes than him, and they will all be on the pitch with him on Tuesday. In descending order they are Aymeric Laporte, Pau Torres, Jordi Alba and Jorginho.
(L-R) Spain’s midfielder Sergio Busquets, Spain’s forward Pedri and Spain’s goalkeeper Unai Simon attend a training session at the Ciudad del Futbol in Las Rozas near Madrid on July 3, 2021 during the UEFA EURO 2020 football competition.
Image credit: Getty Images
It’s perhaps unsurprising for a player who had Andres Iniesta as his role-model growing up that he is so easy on the eye. He has the same effortless glide, the rare ability to make a tremendously difficult thing look nonchalant. He may not score a lot of goals throughout his career but his delicate touch and hyper-aware brain are going to make sure he will have a plethora of highlights when he eventually retires.
On Tuesday evening he will go toe-to-toe with one of the best international midfields we’ve seen, possibly since Spain’s legendary trio a decade ago. Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella are all fabulous ball-players and, perhaps more importantly, they possess the energy to make life very difficult for Pedri’s midfield partner Sergio Busquets. Perhaps Luis Enrique will bring in someone like Marcos Llorente to try and unsettle Italy, but how Pedri copes with this test will be crucial for Spain’s chances of making the final.
Italy’s midfield have smothered teams so far during this tournament, keeping the ball moving at a brisk pace. It’s not too dissimilar to the Spain team of old, but with the pace of Italy’s front three if you sit off them they’ll just pick you off over the top. Pedri’s defensive ability is the obvious weak point of his game and it’s going to be important for him to put in the work on that side as well as when his team have the ball.
MADRID, SPAIN – JULY 05: Pedri of Spain talks to the media following the Spain Training Session ahead of the Euro 2020 Semi-Final match between Italy and Spain at Ciudad del futbol de Las Rozas on July 05, 2021 in Madrid, Spain.
Image credit: Getty Images
It’s terrifying to think that this could be the first of as many as EIGHT international tournaments for Pedri, but hopefully that can help put into perspective just how special this young man is. In the history of international football only one player has appeared in five World Cups and five European Championships, legendary Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo should follow suit next summer but this is the sort of career potential we’re talking about. Between now and 2038 (which is all sorts of weird to type) Pedri could match that feat.
Of course it’s absolutely ludicrous to be making plans for a career that is only in its infancy; Pedri has some growing to do still and there’s surely more to come. We’ve seen countless players flourish in their teens and then have it all fall apart by their late 20s.
But Pedri has great examples at the club he is at of longevity and hopefully he will be continue to be allowed to shine, even if there is something resembling a sophomore slump next season. Alongside Frenkie De Jong, and maybe even Riqui Puig, there is a real potential in that Barcelona midfield for the foreseeable future. Internationally he has the likes of Rodri and Fabian to help him along the way. He comes from a good place as well, players like David Silva and Pedro are also products of the Canary Islands.
In 20 years Pedri may be a forgotten name, maybe trying to recreate his former glories in a far-flung league. However, it feels more likely that we will be celebrating the career of one of the truly great midfielders. And you’re going to be able to say that you were there for the beginning.