TThere was a moment 101 minutes after the start of the wet and wild night at Wembley in which Spain lost a place in the final but found a future as Pedri dribbled around the referee. Why? Because it was necessary and because, finally, why not? Because he can, perfectly finding his way past Felix Brych, just as he has repeatedly found a way to escape much tougher men. A change in weight and the Spaniard freed himself to play another pass. To complete it too.
Of course. The semi-final between Spain and Italy was well advanced in extra time and Pedri still hadn’t made a pass or a bad foot. It wasn’t just the fact that he had completed every pass after 90 minutes, the 65 completed out of 67 full-time – a third more than any Italian player – and it certainly wasn’t because he had spent the night playing prudently; it was the softness, the awareness, the balance, the ease of it all, the low socks, the body too. That was all. At that point, however, it didn’t look like anything anymore. Standing on the center line, Gerard Moreno to his right, Dani Olmo to his left, Pedri watched Jorginho roll into the decisive penalty and collapse. Spain had been denied the chance to return in five days, although their manager insisted they would be back soon after.
Pedri had come a long way quickly to be here. On July 8, 2020, he was beaten at Real Oviedo in the second division; on July 7, 2021, he was beaten by Italy in the European Championship semifinals, producing a performance that suggests there will be many more moments like this. Inconsolate, he sobbed into Thiago Alcântara’s shoulder. Aymeric Laporte kissed him too, and Luis Enrique, but the tears kept falling.
They weren’t just hers. Álvaro Morata in particular looked lost, the result too cruel. In the locker room however, Luis Enrique told them to dry their eyes, instead drawing pride and a lesson in pain. “Don’t cry, get up,” he said. “You have to learn to lose – in fact, you learn more in defeat.”
In Wembley, Spain had learned, a newspaper headline suggesting that Pedri had completed his “doctorate” there: he had graduated from a stadium where the sign suspended above the rope preventing people from walking on. the grass says “the players come in and the legends go”. To suggest that this Spanish team is legendary would be pushing it to the limit; to suggest that they can still be would not be. “I hope this can be the start of something very big,” said Eric García. It is about a young team which had “fallen with honor”, the best team against the exceptional team of the tournament.
They had done it with men who aren’t stars, at least not yet. Brighton had more players in the squad than Real Madrid. Barcelona and Atlético had five between them. Ferran Torres is 21, Pau Torres 24, Olmo 23. Olmo was superb at Wembley with a false nine. “His performance was incredible, manual,” said Luis Enrique. “It wasn’t normal.”
It was then that Luis Enrique broke off and, uninvited, said: “But, please, has anyone noticed the tournament produced by a kid from 18 years old who is called Pedri? Anyone who knows football knows that no one has ever seen this from someone at the age of 18, not even Sir Andrés Iniesta. It’s amazing, just unique.
Raised in Tegueste, Tenerife, little Pedri told his dad he wanted a haircut like Iniesta, until his dad pointed out to him that it wasn’t exactly a haircut. There were many other things he could emulate, from shyness to skill, judgment of time and space, the ability to turn away from opponents, to hold the ball. That feeling of total control and the calm that goes with it, a smooth and easy superiority. “I play like I’m in the garden with my brother,” he says. When asked recently if he was getting nervous, he replied, “I could have it before my debut with Las Palmas.”
Playing in a place they called the fridge, chilled by the wind blowing up the hill, Pedri was always special, his manager from Las Palmas, Pepe Mel, was looking at him now and remarking: “Here’s a millionaire who doesn’t know it. ” There was something different about him, an athleticism – he ran the 800m and the 400m hurdles – but above all a unique touch and a conscience made of small games and fun. “I play for fun,” he told Marcos López in El Periódico. It’s serious business, but he almost doesn’t seem to notice it.
“Football loses technique in favor of physicality [attributes]”, he said,” but you have to trust the talent, because these players reward you. Luis Enrique did it, not only including him in the squad but in the side – an initially unpopular decision, justified now. “There are times when facts define things better than words,” he said. he insisted, “Pedri is unique, totally different.”
The facts that revealed the coach’s admiration were straightforward: Three consecutive games at Spain went, exhausted, into overtime, but Pedri only missed a minute the entire tournament – when he was pulled out to bring Rodri, a shooter, in the 119th minute against Switzerland. At 18 years and 215 days, no one has ever played a younger Euro knockout game, Wayne Rooney’s record gone. None of this seems to impress her, which is precisely what impresses others. “What surprises me is its maturity,” says Koke. “He’s the present and the future of the national team.
“I told him: ‘You go to the Euro before you can drive,” said Morata. “I am amazed by him. It’s like he’s 40 years old. There are those of us who need a lot of time to learn to deal with mistakes, pressure. Others have it as standard. At 18, very few players have his personality. He will certainly be one of the best players in the history of Spain.
It was before the third group game; it seems a safer bet after the one against Italy. A magnificent tilted ball nearly put Mikel Oyarzabal in the ball after 12 minutes, a clever kick got him out of trouble 10 minutes later, then a pass through an opponent’s legs drew “oles”. And that was only the beginning. In Tuesday night’s notes there is a scribble that reads, “Pedri, however.” Another marks when a pass got lost, which wasn’t even entirely his fault. That’s a lot of pages.
The problem is that then come the penalties, monitored mid-term (perhaps protected), all this effort ultimately insufficient. It was also an effort: no one by the end of the Euro 2020 semi-finals, a competition he would not have reached if it had been in 2020, will have run further than Pedri. Even if it comes at the end of a calendar year in which he made 70 appearances, starting at Carlos Tartiere Stadium in Oviedo and ending at Wembley. Only, it’s not over yet. The euros are finished; next stop, Tokyo and the Olympics.
Barcelona are not happy – another measure of how important Pedri is – but they can’t stop him from going for a lot of reasons, including the simplest of all and probably the very reason why it is so nice to watch. “I understand,” said Pedri, “but I love to play football.”