Nou Hero at the Nou Camp

In the dying moments of Barcelona’s Champions League triumph in May, coach Pep Guardiola made a substitution to run down the clock. Andreas Iniesta was the player sacrificed. The diminutive midfielder produced a stirring display on the night, along with partner in crime Xavi. Both tormented the Manchester United midfielder to such an extent, Darren Fletcher was almost missed. His replacement was yet another graduate from the Catalan’s outstanding academy, Perdito. It was a surprising choice, as the young forward only appeared in sporadically during their historic treble-winning season. However, one third of the way through the 2009/2010 campaign, he is 2nd in the Barca scoring-charts, just behind a certain Lionel Messi. This season, he has grown into Pedro.

Yet another product of La Masia, Pedro Rodriguez Ledesma’s 2-minute cameo in Rome looked for all the world like Guardiola was giving one of his old mates from his days as Barcelona B’s coach a run-out. After all, Pedro had been a major influence in the B team’s promotion to the Division 2B in the 2007/08 season. This was most certainly a factor in Pep getting the job as Barcelona’s first-team coach, as much as the fact he is a former Barca captain. So this was a way of saying thank you to the versatile attacker. However, this is not how Guardiola’s mind works.

Pep: Single-minded

The former Spanish international is not afraid to make big decisions. Within a few weeks of taking the job, he made it very clear that Samuel Eto’o was not part of his plans. The lack of a concrete offer for the striker meant Barca were stuck with him for another season. A season where the Cameroonian notched 36 goals, but that was not enough to convince Pep to keep him at the Nou Camp. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was in his sights, and Eto’o was merely a makeweight in that particular deal. Huge names like Ronaldino and Deco were sold off within weeks of Pep’s appointment.

Puyol: Captain

Carlos Puyol is an iconic figure at the club. A huge presence within Catalonia, he is club captain of his beloved Barcelona. But he was left to sweat on a new contract, which was due to run out next summer. It was almost unimaginable to see Puyol leave the club. Although prone to errors and lapses in concentration, Puyol’s strength and desire are valuable assets that someway atone for the other shortcomings in his game. Guardiola noted this and after realising Puyol’s value to the squad and versatility, the 31-year-old was offered a new contract running until 2013. Which means he will probably finish his career at the Nou Camp, making him a 1-club-man. A rarity in the modern game.

Often loyalty was Guardiola’s predecessor Frank Rijkaard’s undoing. He persisted with players that were patently not good enough to wear the shirt. Oleguer Presas is one such individual. A highly political footballer, with extreme left-wing views on a wide range of subjects. They range from Catalonia’s independence to the legal and justice system within Spain. But aside from this, he was an extremely average footballer. A weak-link in what was between 2004 through 2006, an exceptional Barcelona side.

Rijkaard indulgence of stars like Ronaldino and Deco was apparent through his time as manager. These 2 playmakers played their best football under the Dutchman’s guidance, but when their star began to wane, Rijkaard failed to make the big decisions and move them on. A weak defence of their Champions League title in 2007 should have been an indication that changes needed to be made.  He was either unwilling, or unable to do so.

So Pedro is in this team on merit alone. If he was not doing the business, he would not be in the side. Last night, the versatile attacker played the full 90 minutes in Barca’s 1-1 draw at Athletio Bilbao. Former next-big thing Bojan was introduced as a substitute, with the ever-popular Thierry Henry playing the final 6 minutes.

It is hard to pin-point his main strengths. He does not possess the lightening pace of Eto’o, Messi’s exquisite dribbling ability, or Ibrahimovic’s strength. One could even argue that Bojan would be considered to be a superior finisher. It’s just a combination of a number of things that have made him a big presence in a squad of superstars. Despite his small frame, Pedro uses his technique, touch and low centre of gravity to find space in and around the penalty area.

Outside the club, Pedro has not even been a regular in Spain’s international teams through the age-groups. With just 2 U-21 caps to his name, it seems like he has slipped under the radar in that respect. However, in a World Cup year, anything could happen. Should he continue his excellent start to the season, perhaps Vicente Del Bosque could sneak Perdo on the plane to South Africa. He could fit him comfortably in one of the overhead compartments. Stranger things have happened.

Quite unique about his 9 goals this term, they have been spread over 5 competitions. La Liga, Copa Del Rey, Spanish Super Cup, Champions League and European Super Cup. His coolly-taken winner on a night when even Messi seemed to lose his head was just a hint of what was to come over the following months. A stunning winner against Almeria in October was the winger’s debut La Liga goal, and gave Barca a vital 3 points. In December, the World Club Championships shall be played in Japan, giving Pedro the chance to net in 6 different competitions.

As Barcelona’s season now enters a pivotal week, with games against Inter Milan and Real Madrid, it will be interesting to see how much we see of Pedro in these games. He is equally effective whether he is starting, or used from the bench. Should Pedro make any impact in the week to come, perhaps people will begin to take note.And the 22-year will have repaid some of Guardiola’s faith in him.

Pedro Rodríguez Ledesma

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