The man they call Pedro

Who are your top 3 players in the world?  Naturally it changes every couple of years as new stars emerge.  At the end of 2011?  Here's Luke Colbourne on a contender.

Born in Santa Cruz, Tenerife, a youngster from the Canary Islands was picked up by Barcelona in 2004 from local side San Isidro. At age 17, an unknown Pedro Rodríguez Ledesma made one of the best decisions of his life when he left the Canaries to go and play on the mainland for one of the biggest clubs in Europe. And little did we know a boy born far from Barcelona would end up fitting in there so perfectly.

Pedro arrived and took his place at the famous La Masia academy, a place where young players are taught the Barça way; the way the club believes that football should be played. Not only that, the academy works in a way that teaches young players important values, preparing the players mentally as well as technically. As former technical director Pep Segura put it:

“It’s about creating one philosophy, one mentality, from the bottom to the top of the club.”

Pedro went on to graduate from La Masia, moving on to Barça’s reserve team. In 2007, Pep Guardiola, a former Masia graduate himself was appointed as coach of the Barça ‘B’ team. At this point, Barça B were playing the fourth tier of Spanish football, the Tercera División and this is where Pedro’s career really began to take shape.

Guardiola promised to give every player a chance during the pre-season, an opportunity which Pedro grabbed with both hands. The coach had already been impressed by the diminutive attacker and he was kept on at the club. Pedro went on to play 37 times, scoring 7 goals in his first proper season for the B team. He was a key player in Guardiola’s team as they managed to gain promotion from Tercera to Segunda División B, the Spanish third tier.

Pedro carried on his excellent form into the 2008/09 season, racking up a total of 10 goals in 17 games, and earning himself a place in the senior squad for the pre-season. Guardiola, now the senior coach, made sure that Pedro was involved in a number of pre-season games and the young attacker performed well, picking up a few goals along the way.

Guardiola then eased Pedro through the 2008/09 season, where again he showed incredible promise. A mentally well-prepared, technically brilliant Pedro seemed unfazed by his rise, taking every game in his stride. He ended the season with a total of 14 senior appearances, in the year which Barça completed the La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble in Pep’s first season in charge as a top level coach. While all this was going on, the little-known 20-year-old was improving at an alarming rate.

Guardiola believed in Pedro, he always had. At the start of the 2009/10 season, Pedro was officially called up to be part of the senior squad, where he effectively took the place of Thierry Henry. Once again, he repaid the faith showed in him. He exploded onto the scene, quickly establishing himself as a regular in the Barça line-up. This was his real breakthrough season, and few saw it coming.  However his coach knew exactly what Pedro was capable of.

He finished the season with 23 goals in 52 games overall, becoming the first player to score in six different club competitions in one season; quite an achievement for a player who most outside of Spain still hadn’t heard of. But he was slowly gaining recognition, and that was no doubt amplified when he got on the scoresheet in his first ever clásico against rivals Real Madrid.

‘Pedrito’, as he had been affectionately known throughout his career in Spain had become Pedro. He was no longer the little guy from the B team, a guy with promise; he was proving to be just as effective, decisive and consistent as any attacker that Barça had. At just 5’6”, he’s hardly the biggest, but he has been trained in such a way that it doesn’t affect his game at all; the same way that the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, Leo Messi were trained, where technique and mental awareness trump physicality. And according to Pep Guardiola:

“A player that has passed through La Masia has something different to the rest, it’s a plus that comes from having competed in a Barcelona shirt from the time you were a child.”

It’s clear to see that Pedro has that something different. He’s skilful, quick, inventive and a fantastic finisher – undoubtedly one of the most clinical in world football. Added to that, he works incredibly hard for the team both in attack and defence. He is also very versatile, and his understanding of the game means that he can play just as well on either side, with both feet, or as a striker. He is a truly multi-dimensional footballer.

By now, Pedro’s star was shining, yet many (outside of Spain especially) were still unaware of his talent. However, he wasn’t overlooked by Spanish national team coach Vicente del Bosque, who selected the previously uncapped Barça forward for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Pedro slowly grew into the side, playing well whenever he was given the chance. Eventually, he took over from an off-form and unfit Fernando Torres in the attack and went on to start in the final against The Netherlands. An amazing achievement considering he had only one full senior season under his belt, and was still relatively unknown to many in the football world.

Unsurprisingly, Pedro has been outstanding again so far this season, already hitting 19 goals in all competitions. He has one man to thank for such a meteoric rise though – his manager, the one who always believed in him, Pep Guardiola.

“Without Guardiola, all that has happened to me would not have been possible. He has taught me a lot, and I will always be grateful to him for this confidence because he made me a football player.”

Now, at 23, the sky is the limit for the boy from Tenerife. He already boasts an impressive list of honours, making him one of the most decorated young players in world football. He may not be the biggest worldwide star now, or be appreciated as fully as he should be, but it is just a matter of time and you can be sure his name will be remembered.

Pedro Rodriguez wears the Nike Mercurial.

Luke writes regularly for the excellent world football website 'Just Football'.  You can catch him on Twitter @lukecolbourne