“IIf we are talking about pure talent, he is the best in the world,” said Xavi Hernández. Luis Enrique called him “incredible, just unique”, stating that no one had ever done what he did. And Julen Lopetegui, his predecessor as Spain coach, described him as ‘special, one of those who only happens once in a while’. As for Pedri himself, he just wants to play football, like he always has. “To have fun is the best thing you can do,” he says, a single line that defines him.
When the Barcelona manager made his big statement, it was hinted he had gone too far, so he ‘apologised’ – repeating it. Xavi had said Pedri reminded him of Andrés Iniesta – ‘the greatest talent I’ve ever seen’ – which felt like sacrilege, but nobody knows Iniesta better and Xavi wasn’t alone either. Luis Enrique was the player in charge of welcoming Iniesta to Barcelona’s first team; now Spain manager, he too drew the comparison after Pedri graced the Euros at 18, saying: “No one has ever seen that, not even ‘Sir’ Andrés Iniesta.”
Xavi insisted he’s not just building up Pedri, not least because Pedri ‘doesn’t like praise’. “You may come to believe it,” Pedri says, and although his life has “completely changed,” he says his game hasn’t changed and he gives the impression of not being affected by it all. like he wasn’t listening and the pressure was. does not exist. The kid who showed up at Camp Nou with his kit in a carry bag would certainly never make such a big claim, if any at all. The parallel, however, is as pleasing as it is fitting. “Iniesta always seemed like a good person,” says Pedri. “And he had this composure to just play, to make it easier than he is. The way he could leave someone behind with a change of gear always amazed me.
Pedri grew up in Tegueste, Tenerife as an Iniesta fan. His father, Fernando, was a goalkeeper who reached the Third Division but gave up football to run the family restaurant. Tasca Fernando is frequented by surfers heading to the coast; it’s also the home of the island’s Barcelona Supporters’ Club – a club founded by his grandfather in 1994. Pedri has a picture of him greeting club president Joan Laporta there when he was still shorter than he is now, and he wanted to cut his hair like Iniesta.
But it wasn’t just emulation; it was also an evolution, something more natural. There is a How? ‘Or’ What you play, not just how hard, conditioned by the environment. Witness the Canarians David Silva and Juan Carlos Valerón: an ease with the ball, a break. A few years ago a book was published about the Canarian character and how football is played on the islands. Practically a treatise, its opening theory is about beauty, improvisation, creativity, even the art of taking your time. “It’s not slowness, [it is] pause time to transform the routine into the unexpected.
Pedri was 13 when it was published but you can hear it on the pages. It’s his place, and it’s one of the reasons he supported Adidas’ Run for the Oceans campaign against plastic pollution. “Footballers are in the privileged position that people listen,” he says, “and for a canary the ocean is so important: what are we without it? It’s our future, our life, and we have to take care of it, make people aware of the need to use less plastic. If we don’t, who will?
“I wouldn’t say there is a Canarian model, exactly, but there is a similarity between the players and the ideas, a ‘genre’: this idea of playing in the street or on the beach. The climate influences it and wherever you go in the Canary Islands you have a great time. You can tell in this footballing identity; people who like to dribble, have the ball, have fun with it.
He admits: “Sometimes if two or three shots go by without you receiving the ball, you get a bit bored.” The good news is that it doesn’t happen often, no matter what his older brother, Fernando, says. Pedri laughs. “He lives with me. When I came in, I may have played a great game, but he remembers a mistake and he reminds me of it. It’s a pain, but a good one, trying to help me get better.
“He was a good player, very calm, a defensive midfielder who didn’t fight much. We would go down to Bajamar and play. Everywhere: the beach, on the courts, the concrete in front of the house, wherever there was space. There were bollards to stop cars and it would be one goal, one T-shirt the other. My father was a goalkeeper. We played the children against the parents, and he entered the goal. The next day, he couldn’t even move. And did they play correctly? “Yes, they did everything…” There is a smile. “But they didn’t win.”
More and more, Pedri did. Snow ruined a lawsuit against Real Madrid. Villarreal, Deportivo and Tenerife decided against him: he was small, skinny and didn’t say much. Las Palmas signed him, although when Pepe Mel took over as manager he said they didn’t quite realize what they had and promoted Pedri to the first team, age of 16. Barcelona signed him within a month, despite finishing the season in the second division. He had only played 26 games for Barcelona when Luis Enrique called him up. The decision to take him to the Euro was justified, elected Golden Boy 2021.
It was not without a price, especially since Pedri then headed to the Olympics. He played 73 games in 2020-21; that injury from last season limited him to just 12 league games. Now speaking of Tenerife, he wasn’t in Spain’s squad for this month’s internationals. Come the World Cup, it will be. “I love to play, but it’s good to rest. It was crazy and it seemed like every game was going to overtime too [nine times Pedri played matches that went beyond 90 minutes]. Every time it happened, I said to myself: ‘It’s not possible…’ It all happened so quickly, but at the end of the season I was very tired.
The enforced absence only underscored its importance. Xavi sees in him the player who best reflects the identity he is looking for in Barcelona. “Pedri gives us that break, he doesn’t lose the ball, he’s always in a good position, he uses both feet. He dominates space and time perfectly: he’s an exceptional player,” Xavi said. have to look after him.” Of the 12 league games Pedri has played, Barcelona have lost none. They have won 10 – just one less than in the 26 games without it.
It was enough to score one of the goals of the season, putting three Sevilla players on the floor and the Camp Nou on their feet. A similar moment had happened to Galatasaray, applying the break, the world slowing down around him as the opponents passed. “I always try to be calm, to play like when I was little. In this movement, you don’t really have time to think. It’s intuitive. I’ve always done it like that.”
Barcelona is the right place then? “I would try to play my game wherever I am, but it’s true that I would suffer more elsewhere,” says Pedri. “Some clubs are happy to win, but they do it. Barcelona want to win but do it by playing the ball, creating chances, with that idea. I like this football more.
“Xavi has a very clear, model idea: he’s very clear on what each of us has to do: inside midfielders have to be between the lines, the ball moved from side to side. The things he did when he was playing – and it was spectacular to watch – he tries to instill that in us. The interiors we have to hold our position. If you get out of position, then when you lose the ball, you can’t press the way you want: you won’t get there. He also wants the interiors turn, face the opposing goal.
There’s a line from Juanma Lillo, now an assistant coach at Manchester City, about Iniesta that fits Pedri, Valerón and Silva. Far from the idea of one-touch football, Lillo said Iniesta would take as many touches as possible, to draw opponents in, engage them and then play the pass, take them all out of play, create time and space for teammates. He would accept the risk because he could, because he knew on some subconscious level that he was better. Pedri applies it to Sergio Busquets: “He must hold, attract, leave someone else one-on-one: we know he can face five, six and clear them. You have to attract opponents, be able to go it alone.
It’s bravery, not the tall defender diving into last-minute tackles. “It’s having self-confidence,” replies Pedri. “You don’t have time to think, but it’s having faith in your abilities, and you can tell when you don’t have any. It’s also brave to be physically strong, to take those risks; “It’s not easy either. But it’s a different kind of bravery. In midfield, when the game is at its worst, you have to have the confidence to ask for the ball and the confidence to keep it.
“Lately I think there has been a shift towards the player who runs more than the player who is technical, who understands the game. Football is becoming more and more robotic, but there are still those who break this rule. I always play for fun. I always do it and it’s the best thing a footballer can do. If you enjoy it, you will play much better.
Pedri recently teamed up with adidas to take part in this year’s Run For The Oceans, which cleans plastic bottles from beaches, remote islands and coastlines before they reach the ocean. Learn more at https://www.adidas.co.uk/