Pedro: How the starlet turned senior figure is helping Chelsea’s youngsters follow in his feted footsteps

Exclusive interview: The Spaniard, now 32, knows exactly what it takes to make it at as a youngster at a European super-club having done exactly that at Barcelona a decade ago

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Friday 20 September 2019 09:48 BST

For Pedro, there are moments when it hits him. It might be when Tammy Abraham asks about specific runs to make, what he should be looking for. It might be when journalists ask about being the most decorated player in the Premier League. It might be when Frank Lampard asks about old games they played in.

The Spanish international is now very much “a veteran”, a senior figure, and that’s something that can be difficult to get your head around when you’re also someone who for so long made his name as - and still youthfully looks like - an archetypal academy product.

“Yes, it’s strange!” the 32-year-old laughs. “Time passes for every player. I lived a Barcelona era as a young player. Here, I’ve been one of the more experienced players. I’ve now spent nearly 11 years at the top level. A lot of games, a lot of experience, a lot of titles.”

And a lot of questions from the many junior players in a young Chelsea squad where he is now one of the few veterans.

It’s all even more pointed for Pedro because he was in their exact situation 10 years ago, suddenly dealing with serious responsibility at a super-club, if an even more pressurised scenario.

Back in 2009, he and Sergio Busquets were abruptly promoted by Pep Guardiola from the Barcelona B team and Spain’s third tier. It may have been to a treble-winning side that already worked so well, but that only increased the demands, the requirement to instantly adapt.

And it was quite a culture shock. Pedro can recognise the same reactions he went through then in the faces of his young teammates now.

What most hit him was the stadiums. All of his football had previously been played in grounds where you could always see the open Spanish sky. Suddenly, every time he looked up, he would see cavernous stands filled with people. It was even more pronounced a leap than that which Chelsea’s Championship loanees like Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori have made, which is one reason why they’ve asked him so much.

“You go from playing against lads of your age and your level to playing with big stars,” Pedro says, sitting in an interview room at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground. “And you go from stadiums where 4,000 people are watching to stadiums with 70,000, 80,000; matches with a lot of demands, that the whole world watches. People start to recognise you, so you have more responsibility.

“Everything changes when you go up. The rhythm of the ball changes, the competition. It’s more difficult to score goals. This is the elite.

“You don’t know anyone. You’re a bit more timid. You want to listen and learn. I was lucky because players who had a lot of experience like [Carlos] Puyol, [Victor] Valdes, Xavi helped me a lot. I learned a lot from them. That was an opportunity I had.

“But this is one of the nicer aspects for a young player, when you start to have greater motivations, and a hunger to be in the team for many years and succeed.

“I see it with Mason, with Tammy, with Tomori, and other players from the academy that haven’t come through yet. They want to learn, they’re driven. Frank is a manager who gives a lot of chances to young players. It’s an opportunity they shouldn’t let pass.”

Pedro was a key part of football's greatest sides
Pedro was a key part of football's greatest sides (Getty Images)

You can tell Pedro has come from the ultimate academy club in Barcelona for reasons beyond such references. It’s his entire outlook on the game, and the message he has for such young players. For him, it’s not about what you can get from football. It’s that all that will follow when you’re prepared to give everything.

“It’s above anything about the will to do well,” Pedro tells young players. “It’s about every-day education, and the desire to get better, to show they should be in the first team and keep doing it there for many years… to show every day you belong here. If you don’t, it’s impossible for a young player to get to the level of Frank Lampard or John Terry. That’s the key, the will to show your qualities every day and to stay here many years and show you belong. It’s not just about ‘want’. Many players ‘want’. It’s about showing it.”

The presence of a mindset like Pedro’s is all the more important given this very will is what Chelsea have lacked in the Roman Abramovich era. The owner has so desperately wanted to bring academy players through and emulate Barcelona, but the demands he has placed on the team have inadvertently ensured they have done almost everything to prevent this, because the patience required for youth hasn’t been possible.

That change has now been forced upon them by the transfer ban, so it helps that drastic leap all the more when you have a senior player so well versed in this process. Pedro himself feels a manager like Lampard helps.

“Barcelona have done it for many years, so here they have to mark out that philosophy a bit more. I think Chelsea are now working it well, with players of a high level who I think will just get better over the season.

“Frank knows the club, has lived so many eras and so many emotions here. He knows the identity, and looks to transmit its values.”

One of Lampard’s more modern values is highly co-ordinated attacking football. This is something else that has drastically changed in the game in the time since Pedro first played for Barcelona. He was, however, part of the team who first started that change.

Pedro starred under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona
Pedro starred under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona (AFP/Getty Images)

It is why Guardiola’s Barca - who Pedro still believes were the “best ever” team - were also one of the most influential. Before them, even in the mid-2000s, attacking football was remarkably free-form. Pressing was basic. Individualism reigned. Since then, the level of co-ordinating in both pressing and movement has become ever more intense, to the point players almost have to study it.

“It’s something all the most prominent managers now practice,” Pedro explains. “I believe it has to be perfected and trained on every day, because in the end you have to be able to execute a series of movements that must be co-ordinated between many players. Without it, there can be a lot of complications at the trigger moment to press. You leave space.

“That’s what takes more time to get. That’s what takes more work. You have to perfect it.”

That’s what young players have to realise, too. And that’s why every manager now has to have good communication skills. Pedro believes that this, after the initial understanding of football, is the most important element of coaching.

“A manager can have a great idea but if the players don’t understand it, or don’t follow you, your idea doesn’t have much use. On the other side, you can have a bad idea, but if the players are convinced it, and you transmit it well, it can work.

“That’s the fundamental. If the manager can’t transmit his ideas, and the players don’t understand it, you’ve a problem. When your players can follow it, though, you’ve already won a lot in a season.”

Pedro is one of the game's great finishers
Pedro is one of the game's great finishers (Getty Images)

For all that, Pedro himself represents an irony in this, given that one of his most marked qualities is something that can’t really be taught. It can only be honed. It is that scoring instinct, that “nose” for goal.

“It is something that comes from within,” he admits.

“I think it does depend on the player and the situation. But it’s about following the play, knowing where the ball is going to fall.

“A great manager can show you how to find goals, but it’s evidently something you have to have; a drive to score.

“I had it with Pep, and a practical example now is with [Raheem] Sterling. He was a player who didn’t score many goals and now he’s a great scorer, because Guardiola was behind him, indicating the movements to get inside, rather than being outside like he was earlier. I say this because I know it well. I know those types of movements, how they work and come off. Sterling is now without doubt a player who scores goals, who makes the difference. I think that’s a little bit the hand of Pep.”

He points to what might be the classic Pedro goal, and one of his biggest: the opener in the Champions League final against Manchester United in 2011. It brought so much of this together, combining his individual instinct with supremely co-ordinated collective play.

“Yes, there’s first of all my movement inside where I see I can draw the defence with a run. That opens space outside, where we had players like Xavi or Andres [Iniesta] who can give you those passes. You then find yourself alone in front of the goalkeeper, and then it’s all about the finish. It’s true it was maybe my most typical play at Barca, because I was constantly moving in these spaces, and they gave me great passes.

“That was always the way at Barcelona. You simply make the movement, there’s the ball, and you’re one on one. Like I said earlier, though, you have to have the characteristics then to score goals.”

Pedro says this has also been a theme of Chelsea training, not least because Lampard had that same instinct for goal as a player.

“He always says to us we have to try and get into the box quickly. He was a great scorer in this league, who got a lot of goals from arriving late in the box, and a magnificent shot from outside the area. That’s a little bit what I’m saying about the idea he wants to transmit, and a little what I think has come up in the last few games. The season has only started but we have to try and get our concepts of play right now, so we can compete in the intense months coming up.”

Pedro knows this too well, from so many intense years. That’s not strange to him. It’s all too natural, and now all about making it the same for his young teammates.

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