First Pedri González put Ivan Rakitic on the floor, next he put Diego Carlos on the floor and then, allowing time to speed up again, he put Yassine Bono on the floor and 76,112 people on their feet. And that’s just those who were in the ground chanting his name, bowing before him. Because if Sevilla fell for the quiet lad who comes to the Camp Nou with his kit in a carrier bag on Sunday night, so did everyone else. “Pedri, Pedri, Pedri,” went the cover of Sport, like a kid calling on the Candyman and soon there he was, pretty much everywhere. “Madness,” he said, smiling slightly once it was over.
Only it wasn’t over. Pedri’s goal had defeated Sevilla 1-0 but this was just beginning, both on Sunday and beyond. If Sport named him three times, Barcelona went for 40. He had acted as their “messiah”, El Mundo wrote. “Pedri provides the music,” El Periódico said. “Astonishing,” El País called him, “evocative of Messi and Ronaldinho.” El Mundo Deportivo declared him “wonderful, magisterial, unforgettable”. And while it’s an idea not to use up the superlatives, if only because he’s 19 and you get the feeling you’ll need them again, it was a bit good.
There was a little over a quarter of an hour left and it was 0-0 between Barcelona and Sevilla, second place at stake, when Pedri got the ball and pressed pause. It was noisy at the Camp Nou, the second-highest crowd of the season – well, the third – and it was tense too, but that didn’t matter: he’s a teenager and he’s timid, his manager says, yet nervousness isn’t his thing, not once he’s out there. So the kid who says he plays like he’s back home in the garden with his brother and who had walked the ball in against Galatasaray in Istanbul a fortnight ago, defenders sliding by and out of shot, did much the same on Sunday. Only from further away.
“If I see legs, I cut back,” Pedri said afterwards. Receiving the ball on the edge of the area, in no hurry in the middle of a frantic crowd, he could see a lot of them. Rakitic flew at him so he applied the brakes, a moment’s still as the game whizzed by, not so much going past his opponent as inviting his opponent to go past him. Diego Carlos did the same, and so he calmly repeated the manoeuvre, a second cartoon character sent careering off the cliff. And then Pedri accelerated and hit a shot that raced into the far corner beyond Bono, the place erupting. As he ran off, teammates grabbed him, threw him to the ground and piled on top, Dani Alves using his body as bongo drums.
“FJHGHFHKGBHFDGBHFBHBHJSBHGFQBGHJBHSBHFSABHJGBHF,” responded the club’s Twitter account, which is at least as coherent as most tweets and as expertly typed as anything this here computer has ever experienced. The coach, Xavi Hernández, responded by leaping into the assistant coach Óscar, brothers in arms. He began not so much punching the air as trying to knock it out. “The ball didn’t want to go in and there was a feeling of anger and impotence,” he explained afterwards.
This was big, after all. Sevilla were the only team that could realistically challenge Real Madrid for the title and now Pedri’s goal had lifted Barcelona above them and into second. Few believe Barcelona can actually win the league: Madrid’s 2-1 win at Celta on Saturday leaves them 12 points ahead having played a game more, with eight weeks left – the same gap Xavi inherited, it might be worth noting. But they have climbed seven places. Madrid and Barcelona hadn’t been the top two since the end of the 2019-20 season, this was Barca’s sixth league win in a row, their 14th game without defeat, and they have beaten Atlético, Real Madrid and now Sevilla. It had been difficult on Sunday, chances slipping away, tension growing, but they had found a way through.
Pedri had. Nor was it just the goal, which might not even have been the weekend’s best – Real Betis’s William Carvalho and Álex Moreno scored beauties against Osasuna, slightly similar to this and even more like the one Pedri got at Galatasaray. Asked, a little giddily perhaps, if this strike would go down in history, Sevilla’s sporting director replied: “I don’t know about that, but it’s a great goal from a player who might.”
The sense of control and calm goes beyond the moment itself to a player quietly taking responsibility for a team emerging as challengers again. “The leader of the opposition,” AS called him, and it was nice to know there is one. Injured at the start of the season, Pedri has now played 11 league games. He hasn’t lost any of them.
When the goal went in and the Camp Nou chanted his name, the echoes were inescapable, even if they were exaggerated. Even Sport’s “Pedri, Pedri, Pedri” had been done before, only with Messi. So had the Candyman line, but hey, come on, it’s 15 years ago now. In El Periódico, Marcos López described the Camp Nou as “Pedri’s garden”, a line he always used for the Argentinian. One columnist even claimed: “Pedri rhymes with Messi.” Which it doesn’t, and it would be wise not to get carried away for everyone’s sake, but Pedri has already done something Messi never managed – he has played at the Carlos Tartiere – and that he is different, and maybe the future, is not just an invention for a one-off moment.
This wasn’t entirely new. Pedri provided the pass for Messi to score his 644th Barcelona goal, another sign of something special. On Cadena Ser radio, commentator Lluis Flaquer has long referred to him as Pedri Potter. Golden Boy winner, the Euros announced him to the world and so did his coach, another more pertinent parallel drawn than the one likening him to Messi. “Anyone who knows anything about football knows that no one has ever seen that from anybody at 18, not even Sir Andrés Iniesta,” Luis Enrique insisted in the summer. “It’s incredible, just unique.” The man who coached Spain before Luis Enrique agreed. “He’s special, one of those players that only comes along every so often,” Julen Lopetegui said after he was finally defeated by Pedri on Sunday night.
On the first day Iniesta trained with the Barcelona team, Luis Enrique was the player sent up to meet him and show him to the dressing room. Over the coming years, no one was closer to Iniesta than Xavi and, like Luis Enrique, he too sees something of his former teammate in the player he now coaches. The quality of the touch and the timing. The control and clarity, the understanding, the management of the match and its moments. The awareness of his superiority, even if only at some subconscious level, that is implicit in his willingness to ask the ball and hold it – not for his sake but for theirs, an act of responsibility.
“It’s wonderful watching Pedri play. In terms of talent, I haven’t seen a player in the world like him,” Xavi said a month or so ago. “And I’m not saying that to eulogise him because he doesn’t like that. There are players with different characteristics, like De Bruyne or Modric, but not with his talent. He reminds me of Iniesta. If we’re talking pure talent, he’s the best in the world.”
Pulled up on those remarks, Xavi later insisted that Iniesta, “the greatest talent I’ve ever seen”, had a career that couldn’t be equalled but he insisted the comparison came out “naturally” and doubled down on it, “even if I get criticised for it”. It is not one he only expresses publicly, done for effect, and the analytics confirm it too: the things that need to be taught to others come naturally to Pedri.
This was his eighth Barcelona goal: he is no goalscorer but he has got there 68 games faster than Iniesta. “He controls space and time,” Xavi said. “We’re encouraging him to shoot more.” On Sunday night he did, but not just like that and not until the moment was made, two men left on the floor and thousands more on their feet, path cleared with a pause.
Note: This article is written by Sid Low and has been published at the Guardian UK