Your back aches. You have sat on a hardwood surface for too long. You started and scored in a Champions League final, yet you even can’t get scrub minutes from the new coach. You try to politely remind him you started and scored in a Champions League final, but you are ignored. You scream that “you are a starter”, but people look at you like you are crazy.
You are Pedro Rodriguez. And this year, somebody finally listened. You are reborn.
I wrote about Pedro a few years ago for my own site. I pinned him as the soccer equivalent of Steve Kerr at the Chicago Bulls: a reasonably skilled player who stood wide, made wide open buckets, and coasted to glory on the back of a genuine all-star in Michael Jordan. Barca fans, rain or shine, always complained: why doesn’t Pedro get more minutes? Starting him in games was the “go to” panacea for any and all cule problems.
Yet he never became that lock starter in Catalonia. Instead, Barcelona bought Neymar and suddenly Pedro found himself even further down the pecking order. Thus, he opted to switch to England and play for Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. This, of course, struck many as an odd move. Going from the tiki-taka attacking vigor of Pep’s Barca to the dire defend-with-numbers Mourinhoball was like drinking oil instead of water.
Pedro started strongly enough, but Chelsea imploded under Mourinho and were laughably close to the relegation spots by Christmas. Guus Hiddink righted the ship, but nobody last Spring, aside from Antonio Conte, would have predicted big things for Pedro.
Yet today Chelsea sit atop the Premier League, Costa and Hazard are banging in goals, and Mr. Rodriguez is a lock to start most games.
So, was Pedro a starter this whole time? Were we all blind? Or, like all players, do his particular traits fit some systems and roles better than others?
Pedro, in the best light, is a fantastic support striker who works so hard off the ball that he can compensate for the light defensive duties of Costa and Hazard. Conte’s 3-5-2 has pushed up two wingbacks to work hard out wide, helping the attacking three to either press or turn off depending on the game situation.
And that’s one of Pedro’s greatest assets: intelligent pressing. Any idiot can run after a ball and try to tackle. Pedro’s soccer IQ means that he can realize when a defense is in a weak position, when he is supported by other players, and how to force the ball wide and into blind alleys where turnovers are more likely.
Of course, Pedro is lethal and crafty around the 18 yard box. He won’t dribble by any defender, but can play the 1-2 and spring the offside trap with ease. He also always opens his hips, finds his feet, and calmly slots his shot to the far post. Just check out these goals from his time at Barca.
For Chelsea, it’s been more of the same.
The clipped chips that bend to the far post; hanging on the last defender’s shoulder; quick first-touch crosses the skip and bounce across the box. These are the trademark of Pedro’s game, and he’s gelled into a nice trident with Hazard and Costa—they interchange at will and combine fluently.
So, today, the debate remains unresolved. Pedro is either an all-star or a studly support striker, but regardless of the label, he’s in damn good form for Chelsea. And he’ll probably have another league title to add to his collection come May.