, October 16, 2021

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Barcelona and Spain are risking Pedri’s development by asking so much of him so early


  •   3 min reads
Pedri Barcelona pre-season
Pedri has played a critical role for both Spain and Barcelona this past year. Stuart Franklin/EPA.

Luis Enrique din’t hold back in his assessment of Pedri’s performances over Euro 2020. “Has anyone noticed what an 18-year-old boy named Pedri has done in the Euros? Not even Andres Iniesta has done it,” said the Spain manager in the immediate aftermath of his side’s semi-final defeat to Italy.

Even in defeat, Pedri shone. The teenager was the best, most influential player on the pitch, just as he was in almost every match Spain played at the tournament.

“What Pedri has done in these Euros I have never seen with an 18-year-old, not from anyone in the Euros, World Cups, Olympic games, it’s something away from all logic,” Enrique added. “I’m delighted that many more are aboard the Pedri bandwagon.”

Those who watched Pedri for Barcelona last season won’t have been surprised by how the 18-year-old played at Euro 2020. He was, after all, just as influential for the Catalan club over the course of the 2020/21 campaign with Ronald Koeman fast-tracking the midfielder into his first team almost as soon as he signed from Las Palmas last summer.

Now Pedri is at the Tokyo Olympics and as he tends to do, he is sparkling. Spain’s hopes of a gold medal in Japan revolve around the teenager who has played nearly every minute of every game at the tournament so far. After Saturday's Olympic Gold Medal match against Brazil, Pedri will have only a few days off before entering pre-season with Barcelona.

It’s understandable that so many want so much from Pedri, such is his considerable talent. He will be an elite level performer for years to come, but Barcelona and Spain are putting him at risk of burnout. Those who are charged with looking after Pedri and guiding his development are taking advantage at this crucial stage of his career.

Last season, Pedri played over 50 first team games for Barca. He started 28 of the 38 matches the Camp Nou club played in La Liga and came off the bench for the other nine. The 18-year-old then played every minute of every game for his country at Euro 2020. In total, he has played 66 games for club and country in 2020/21. And all this in only his third season as a senior professional.

Pedri has become so important to the landscape at the Camp Nou that Lionel Messi reportedly wants to stay at Barcelona to act as a mentor to the teenager. Along with Ansu Fati, Pedri will be Barca’s core for the next generation. Much like Messi was as a youngster, the Camp Nou club will build around him.

Koeman was unhappy about Pedri’s decision to play at this summer’s Olympics. “I understand the excitement the players have, but the calendar is very stacked and we’ve got to be careful of them,” said the Dutchman before the midfielder headed out to Tokyo after the end of the European Championships.

However, the Barcelona boss is just as guilty as anyone else for pushing Pedri to the threshold of his physical limits. If the teenager is truly the future of the Catalan club, as so many believe to be the case, Koeman must take better care of Pedri otherwise he could run himself into the ground before he has even reached his 20s.

There are countless cases of players who have had too much asked of them too early in their career. Wayne Rooney is perhaps the best recent example. After breaking through as a 16-year-old, the forward was a key figure for club and country through his teenage years, but Rooney faded almost as soon as he turned 30.

At the age of just 35, Rooney has been effectively retired for the last two years. Meanwhile, his former Manchester United teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo, who was allowed to grow and develop at his own pace as a youngster, is still excelling at the top tier of the European game at the age of 36.

This isn’t to say Pedri will necessary go the way of Rooney or other burnout cases. The Spanish midfielder possesses a natural fitness that will serve him well in the latter stages of his career. Nonetheless, Barcelona and Spain mustn’t risk the future of their brightest prospect by demanding so much of him in the present.

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