How Luis Suarez's success could be key to Pedro’s United move
The form of Luis Suarez could see Pedro leave Barcelona with Manchester United waiting in the wings, writes Andy Mitten.
Barcelona's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez (R) celebrates with Barcelona's forward Pedro Rodriguez after scoring during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Cordoba CF at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on December 20, 2014
It’s the same cycle whenever Pedro speaks to the media after a Barcelona home game. First, the questions about the game; then those about his future. He’s always diplomatic and gives little away, but you know his brain is whirring with ‘what ifs?’
The question will likely be raised when Barça speak to the press today (Wed) from their hotel in San Francisco ahead of Saturday’s sell-out pre-season friendly against Manchester United. Pedro’s manager Luis Enrique was asked about him two days ago and told the Catalan daily Sport: "Pedro? If he wants to go, a club will have to meet his release clause. I have talked with Pedro to discuss his situation. I have told him how I think about it and he told me how he feels about it. I obviously won't reveal the exact content of the conversation we had."
United are interested in the Barça front man. They’re not close to a deal, but the interest is more than speculation.
Pedro, 27, can play on the left or right. Spain boss Vicente del Bosque even used him as a full back for five weeks during Euro 2012 because he felt he was short of cover in that position. So Pedro trained every day as a defender but played as a forward.
It’s that adaptability which has contributed to his success, even if it wasn’t easy. Moving from Abades, a village of 800 close to Tenerife’s busiest tourist airport, to Barcelona was a culture shock.
“The adaptation was difficult from a village on a small island to a metropolis,” he told me last season. “There was so much traffic and I saw a road with six lanes of traffic all going in the same direction. I struggled to adapt to the new rhythm of the city, the Catalan language. I can now understand it, but I’d like to speak it better. The culture was different, the food, the people. So many people from all around the world. It was a big change.”
Pedro adapted, found, a manager who believed in him in Pep Guardiola and his career took off when he was promoted from Guardiola’s reserve team to the first team in 2008-09.
The son of a petrol station worker from Tenerife’s capital Santa Cruz, Pedro Rodriguez Ledesma’s 23 goals made him one of the stand-outs in his opening season. He’s a character too – as was noted during Barça’s title 2009 celebrations. As players took to the microphone and shouted “Forever Barça, Forever Catalunya”, Pedro stepped up and hollered “Forever Barça, Forever Tenerife!” Even the most sober Catalans laughed.
He came on in the 2009 Champions League final against United. The following season he made his Spain debut. Within just six weeks he was a World Cup winner.
“I played against Saudi Arabia in May,” he said, “then scored my first goal a week later. I played in five World Cup games.”
Spain's striker Pedro sprays champagne as he celebrates on a stage set up for the Spanish team victory ceremony in Madrid on July 12, 2010 a day after they won the 2010 FIFA football World Cup match against the Netherlands in Johannesburg
Image credit: AFP
Being one of seven Barça players in the Spain squad, most of whom were regular starters in South Africa, also helped.
He was renowned as being a hard worker, difficult to play against with a very good goalscoring record, including in big matches for club and country. In that glorious breakthrough season, Pedro became the first player to score in six different club competitions in one season.
He settled in Molins del Rei, a working class town surrounded by industry outside Barcelona, which is where his wife is from. He lives unpretentiously.
“The people see me every day, in the bread shop or cafes with my small dog Ronnie or our little boy,” he said. “I didn’t call Ronnie after either Ronaldo. There are Barça, Espanyol and Madrid fans there, but all are friendly with me. There’s a good Argentinian restaurant in Molins, we’re happy there.”
And he put his goalscoring success down to working on his shooting “especially from distance”, adding: “You need more than that. Maybe I’m lucky or maybe it was down to my team mates who made my work much easier.”
Opinion is divided on the best position for the two-footed winger.
“I can play on both sides, but I play more on the left so I’d have to say that,” he said. “As for my feet, I use my right more. I tend to score twice as many goals with my right as my left.”
Much of his success, he says, is down to Barça’s youth academy.
“The club have a very clear idea of how we should play football. Receive, pass, move. Learn to do this very quickly and you have an advantage.
“We also have role models in front of us. I could see players like Xavi and Iniesta, they could see players like Guardiola. Youth gets a chance here.”
Barcelona's midfielder Xavi Hernandez (L) and Barcelona's midfielder Andres Iniesta celebrate with the trophy after the UEFA Champions League Final football match between Juventus and FC Barcelona at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on June 6, 2015
Image credit: AFP
Pedro had a dream start but his career ran out of steam through little fault of his own. The Canarian is now 27, with over 300 Barça games and 50 Spanish appearances to his name. If his career ended tomorrow then it would have been a massive success, but there would be a lingering thought that he’s faded from view.
Pedro should be at his peak, but he’s got to get into a side with three of the best players in the world. Messi is the best; the other two, Neymar and Suarez, weren’t signed for big money to sit on a bench.
Barcelona's Brazilian forward Neymar da Silva Santos Junior celebrates after the UEFA Champions League Final football match between Juventus and FC Barcelona at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on June 6, 2015
Image credit: AFP
In danger of becoming a peripheral figure, he played fewer minutes last season than in any since that breakthrough season. Having been involved in 50 Barça games last season sounds impressive, but he started in only 15 of 38 league games and just four of the 13 Champions League matches. He played a token minute in the final against Juventus in Berlin. His 11 goals were another drop from the 19 the season before and well down. If he doesn’t play then he can’t score.
Pedro could live with his situation being Messi, Neymar plus one when it was Alexis Sanchez. But his situation has been made more difficult since the arrival and subsequent successful form of Suarez. If he wants to play for Spain in Euro 2016 then he’ll be in a far better position
So he’s had to think about his future and the links with England.
“He’s got the attitude and robustness which would fit well into English football and his pace is extraordinary,” said Spanish football expert Graham Hunter.
The last time I spoke to him, he talked favourably of English football, as Spanish players tend to do.
“I love playing in England,” he said. “The stadiums are full and loud, the fans really proud of their teams. I played against Arsenal and Chelsea, plus Celtic in Scotland. That’s one of the best. I’d love to play at Old Trafford too.”
He meant as a Barça player; it could be in a United shirt.