Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernández left behind them an indelible imprint in Barcelona’s history. For the better part of a decade, the iconic duo tore Europe to shreds, winning everything at their disposal, but more than winning, they did so with quality at every step.
Perhaps the biggest caveat to this is that eventually, they would have to bid farewell to the club. Their long-standing service to Barça could seemingly never be replicated, as talents of their pedigree are few and far between. Some hope was reignited with the arrival of Arthur Melo, however, marred with indiscipline and inconsistency, the Brazilian’s career in the Garnet and Blue of Barcelona was rather short-lived.
Now, two years following Iniesta’s egress from Cataluña, Fútbol Club Barcelona seem to have found the man to take them into the next decade. That man is none other than the teenage sensation, Pedro González López, or as he is more colloquially known, Pedri.
The 18-year-old has taken La Liga by storm, earning the admiration of both his manager in Ronald Koeman and his captain and mentor, Lionel Messi. His arrival to the club, coupled with his age and immaculate performances thus far seem to have spelt the genesis of Barcelona’s path back to the helm of European football.
Pedri, a man of precocious dexterity
For a man who all too recently became an adult, Pedri Gonzales shows the level of maturity and composure in his gameplay that would otherwise have been associated with a footballer approaching their prime. His minuscule frame might be a dead giveaway of his youth, however, contrary to popular opinion, it does nothing to slow him down.
As the great Johan Cruyff described it, football is, after all, a game played with your mind, with feet serving only as guides to help you go the extra mile. Clement Lenglet has admired and acknowledged this facet in his gameplay, saying that while he lacks the build of a top athlete, he, as an individual, thinks a lot faster than others, always remaining one step ahead of his opponents on the mental aspect of the game.
Every pass he makes carries with it a message, and with someone as proactive in his play as Pedri, the signal is always one to keep the ball rolling. He has a pristine comprehension of what the game needs of him, and this has aided him greatly in forming a partnership with Lionel Messi.
Why so? Well, in much similar fashion to the seemingly ostracized Riqui Puig, Pedri, while never having played in Barcelona’s esteemed La Masia, speaks the same footballing language as Messi. As such, even when swarmed with opposition defenders, the second Messi plays a pass to him, he instinctively knows where best to place it. Case in point being his backheel assist to the Argentine in the game against Real Valladolid.
With this sort of understanding, management, exploitation and creation of spaces within the opposition’s half, it comes as no surprise that he has managed to feature in nearly every game this season for the Catalans.
Bar Messi, Pedri is one of the few players within Barça’s squad that plays football as if he were watching the game from above. How else would one explain his exceptional ability to thread passes in between clusters of players, creating positionality superiorities where they initially would never have been? How else would one explain his otherworldly link-up play with overlapping players who nine times out of ten would have been ignored by more pragmatic midfielders?
It’s this remarkable game reading ability and near unmatchable decision making that he never ceases to display which week after week, earning him more admirers, and distances him from his competitors. Not to mention, dedication miles ahead of most names in the squad.
Beyond his exceptional understanding of his teammates, Pedri has also shown an uncanny ability to perform, regardless of the position or the role given to him. They say that the jack of all trades is a master of none; however, unlike Philippe Coutinho, his versatility does not come at the cost of his efficacy. Be it in the left-wing or any of the midfield slots, Pedri is more than tactically adept, and if capable of filling the blanks in the team whenever the need arises.
His dexterity in these areas has meant that Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho both have to play catch up with him. Neither one of them possesses the sort of understanding that he has of Messi, or, quite frankly, anyone else on the pitch for that matter. They are infamous for taking one touch too many, being overly one-dimensional, and in a system that revolves around Messi, their possessive attitudes create plenty of unnecessary hold-ups in play, killing chances before they can even be created.
Who would have thought that an 18-year-old would perform to levels beyond players ten years his senior, and at 25 times less the cost?
Rarely ever do you see an attacking midfielder do what Pedri does, and in a club like Barça, his sort of profile is heaven-sent. Despite his age and footballing background, Pedri does everything expected of him and more, with no questions asked.
Given the immense success that this relatively inexpensive player has wrought, it begs the question, why does Barcelona spend so much time searching for footballers who by no means fit the bill, spending — or better said wasting — ludicrous amounts of money when players of Pedri’s profile are available for what is essentially peanuts in the present market?
Assuming Pedri continues trekking down the path he has laid forth for himself, the €5 million that Barcelona dished out for him might just turn out to be the steal of the decade.
The Copa del Rey could be Barcelona’s only saving grace this season
With the league out of sight, and the Champions League a distant dream, the Copa del Rey could be the saving grace Barcelona are looking for this season.
As much as it wrenches a Culés‘ heart to see the club they once witnessed conquer Europe with all it’s might now look like a pale shadow of its former self, it’s also vital to come to terms with the fact that Barça are still in the process of recovery, patching their wounds while attempting to rediscover its former glory.
Winning the Champions League and La Liga will invariably be the main motive at a club as big as Barcelona. Still, for once, the chances of contending with Europe’s elite seems immensely slim, especially with the continuous spells of inconsistencies the Azulgranas have endured this season.
Woefully, the club have also made it a customary practice to flounder against relatively bigger oppositions, cracking under pressure in amateur fashion. It’s safe to assume these old habits will once again die hard.
It might be a little too late to kickstart a challenge for the league, as Atletico Madrid do not appear to be showing any signs of slowing down in the league and teams like Bayern Munich and Manchester City are always major forces to reckon with in the Champions League. Not to mention, last year’s finalists – PSG – await Barça in the round of 16, who will undoubtedly be a tough nut to crack over the two legs. Having a shot against established sides in one of the club’s most vulnerable states does not seem plausible in the slightest.
However, despite the chances of winning the two big trophies looking ever so minuscule, the Copa Del Rey stands in solitude, waiting to reconcile with the team that has one way or another always found itself reclaiming this esteemed trophy as it habitually dresses in the Blaugrana colours at the end of the campaign.
Having been knocked out disgracefully in the Spanish Super Cup finals, the Copa del Rey may end up being a crucial source of silverware for the Catalan giants. The prize may not be as notable as the aforementioned competitions, yet it undeniably holds value and possesses the ability to save Barcelona’s turbulent season.
Albeit there’s no guaranteeing the road to success will be a stroll in the park for the Blaugranas, it’s apparent that the situation has been made considerably easier, as the fickle finger of fate blesses Barça’s fortunes with the shocking exits of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
Additionally, the fact that Sevilla square up against Valencia and Real Betis lock horns with Real Sociedad implies that two prominent teams will be forced to bid farewell to the competition in the next round, making Barça’s road to the final substantially less complicated.
While the Copa Del Rey’s primary stages are typically utilized to award youngsters and players from the B team opportunities with the first team, Ronald Koeman understandably appears to be opting for his best players in the upcoming round of 16 clash against Rayo Vallecano, who sit at 4th place in the Segunda Division.
Owing to the fact that two of Spain’s biggest teams have already departed the competition indicates that there is simply no margin for error and seeing how even the underdogs cannot be underestimated, Barca must use this as a lesson to showcase their winning mentality, even against sides from the lower divisions.
“It is an important moment of the season, we are doing well away from home. We will put up a strong line-up tomorrow. We know that the Cup is the shortest way to win something.”Ronald Koeman | Pre-game press conference
For a team that has basked in silverware and has reigned supreme on the big stage for years, it’s absolutely quintessential to get back to winning ways. After a season full of turmoil, the Copa Del Rey is the least Barça should salvage. With the context perfect for victory, the acclaimed Spanish Competition could very well be Barça’s saving grace this season, and possibly sow the seeds for success.
Of course, it is too soon to write Barça off in any competition yet, but if there’s one thing the club have proven time and time again, it is that they are still a serious work in progress. That said, the Copa Del Rey would be a respectable achievement for Barcelona during these troubling times. Although it may seem as if it is simply an acceptance of mediocrity, the cup would be a great stepping stone for the future, a chance to not only lift silverware again; but also to get into the habit of winning.