They say nice guys don’t get anywhere, but Pedro Rodriguez Ledesma must be the exception. The forward is consistently praised for his down to earth persona, somebody who would rather pass on the praise to his star-studded team-mates and while Gerard Pique and Carlos Marchena wanted to be sexually inactive during the World Cup, Pedro had other ideas “[I’ll have] Sex for sure because my girlfriend is here. I hope to have some free time soon.”
You would refer to him as a normal guy. He is not flashy, is not covered in tattoos and tries to avoid the public attention. His favourite pastimes are hiking and snorkelling. He thanks his brother Jonathan for getting him into football and how he learned from playing against him and his older friends. His nature is thanks to the traits his family instilled in him. “I come from a family of hard-working people. My parents told me: Pay attention and you’ll learn. Putting desire into something I like is easy. I saw my parents labour to pull us through, so I’m fortunate to have this as a job.”
The 23-year-old from Santa Cruz on the island of Tenerife has had a meteoric rise in the past few years from being a B team player to starting a World Cup final and becoming the only player to score in six different tournaments in a calendar year in 2009. Here is his team-mate Pique’s evaluation on his development “He has shown how much he can do in the last two years, though it took him a while to get going in the first year. The last two years have been something to see. Everything he has touched has gone in. He’s always on the lookout and at key moments he is always there.”
However his path to the four-time European champions was something of an accident.
Barça scouts were sent to the annual international youth tournament held in Adeje for Under 18-year-olds. They had been made aware there was a talented winger from Venezuela called Jeffren Suarez playing. In the end both ended up signing and Pedro was transferred from CD San Isidro in 2004. However it was not an easy process moving to La Masia. He struggled with the culture and the language in the first three months, and his mother suffered from depression. He even contemplated leaving with two other offers on the table. But since then he has just continued to improve.
His development has been aided from working with current coach Josep Guardiola. They first met in the 2007/08 campaign when they achieved promotion to the Segunda Division with the reserve team, and Pedro played a key role scoring seven goals. Pedro refers to Guardiola as a father and is appreciative of the ex-captain for giving him his chance “He has been everything to me. He has trusted me since the day I got here, and has giving me the chance of playing for the first squad. I owe him a lot. I would like him to stay at Barça for many years, and I hope he keeps trusting me as he has until now”.
Yet his first team début occurred under then Coach Frank Rijkaard against Murcia in 2008. When Guardiola was promoted to first team manager he gave the fleet-footed player a chance to shine in the 2008 pre-season, and he duly impressed. Despite not being promoted to the senior team immediately, 10 goals in 17 games forced Guardiola’s hand and the Canarian stayed with the first team squad for the remainder of the 08/09 season. In the two campaigns since, Pedro has established himself as a key player for Los Blaugrana. His manager does not hide his importance to the side “Pedro has become vital for us, absolutely fundamental. He is a role model, a great. He always exceeds expectations.”
106 games and 45 goals have followed in those two seasons. A World Cup, two La Liga’s, two Spanish Super Cups, Champions League, Super Cup and a Club World Cup have all been won since Pedro has become a first team player. The ambidextrous player has grown into a man. Whether his former adopted name of Pedrito was dropped for marketing purposes or because the player had finally grown from the little lad into a focal point in the first team is debatable, but his feet are still firmly rooted to the ground. He is not allowed to get big-headed; his father makes sure of that. He still calls him Pedrito, and he is a proud man. Working in a petrol station in Tenerife he has framed photos of his son. He is something of a local celebrity. He is continually stopped and asked about his son, but he does not mind. “He’s given out some photos. A lot of people come to talk to my father, to spend some time with him, and he likes that.“ Pedro could not believe it when he had been picked by Vicente Del Bosque to play against Germany in the World Cup Semi-Final. What did Pedro do? Sent his father a text message. “I’m starting!”
Someone like Pedro would be labelled as ‘lightweight’ if he was in England. Standing just over 5’6” and not weighing any more than 65kg, being at Barça in this period has been perfect. The team consists of mainly nimble players. Pedro suits the attributes for Guardiola’s style of football, and his partnership with Leo Messi and David Villa, labelled MVP, has to be the most potent and feared strike force in European football.
However is the winger getting the recognition he deserves? In the build-up to the Champions League final the majority of the English press focussed on Xavi Hernandez, Messi and Andres Iniesta. Rightly so you would argue, they are the three best players in the world. Despite rejecting the claims, it was reported that Cristiano Ronaldo did not even know who was, asking in an El Clasico fixture “And who are you?”
But not recognising Pedro was a mistake. He scored the opening goal in the game. His impact on the game was slightly different to the 2009 final against Manchester United where he was an injury-time substitute, but perhaps now he will attract more plaudits.
Barça play with high pressure and intensity when they lose possession and Pedro embodies that belief. His work rate is incredible, and the effort he puts into winning the ball back is a reason why he only played the full 90 minutes 15 times in his 39 starts this season. With so much of Barca’s play going through the centre, the width Pedro and Dani Alves bring to the right-hand side allows Xavi to recycle possession and stretch the opponents easier with a continual outlet.
To get the best out of Pedro, he needs to start. Not once did he score in his 13 substitute appearances in the 10/11 season. With an expensive signing destined for the Camp Nou this summer, Udinese winger Alexis Sanchez is the favourite to join while Giuseppe Rossi has also been heavily linked, it would be a crime to see him become a rotational player. People queried why Fernando Torres was not wanted by the Catalans in January, and despite probably not being able to fit him in the side to utilise the best out of Messi, a big factor was the importance of Pedro.
The role of the squad is important in modern football and the impact of a short squad was felt by Barca for a few months in the turn of the year. It’s not in Pedro’s nature to kick up a fuss if he sees himself occupying the bench a lot more next season, but he knows he will still get games because of how highly his coach rates him “If Pedro was Brazilian, he’d be called Pedrinho and we wouldn’t have enough money to afford him.”
Pedro might be too humble for his own good. Guardiola has told him to be more selfish, to stop looking to pass to Messi. He even identifies his dribbling as a weakness. It is nice to see somebody who stresses the importance of the team, and unlike in post-match interviews where you can tell players have been instructed to say “That the win was the most important thing”, when you hear Pedro say it, you believe it, because he is genuine.
His reason for his goals? His striking partners “How can you not score goals in Barça! While defenders have trouble dealing with Messi, Villa and Bojan, they forgot about me. That’s why I could score those goals. A lot [of chances] came my way, taking advantage of a move made by my teammates or a pass.”
That sums Pedro up, he is too humble, but unlike the famous motto of good guys getting nowhere, Pedro looks to be the exception.