On the back of Barcelona's 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid, it was not the Catalan's captain, Leo Messi—nor any other veterans—that emerged to face the reporters and explain away the team's performance.
Instead, it was 17-year-old Pedri who spoke, merely a month removed from his first start for the Catalan club. His words were not extraordinary, but they were appropriate for the occasion and commendable for a player so young.
"We weren't very successful in front of goal, as is happening in recent games, and the goal in the 45th minute hurt us. We knew this could happen to us, we have to keep improving."
Pedri was the one name that stood out more than any other in the Barcelona team picked by Ronald Koeman for the first Clasico of the season. Having been handed his first start for the Catalan club just two weeks before, 17-year-old playmaker Pedri was selected to play from the start against Real Madrid.
That Koeman felt Pedri was ready to start such a significant game said a lot about how the teenager has quickly earned the trust of the Dutch coach. While Barcelona lost the Clasico, suffering a 3-1 home defeat to their great rivals, Pedri did enough to keep his place for the Champions League win over Juventus just four days later.
He also started the Champions League win over Dynamo Kiev and the 5-2 demolition of Real Betis before the international break, scoring in the latter match, before setting up Sergiño Dest's first club goal on Tuesday in the team's second match against Dynamo Kiev. Koeman’s Barca side is still a work-in-progress–there are a lot of moving pieces still to settle–but Pedri is one player the Dutchman has already started to build around.
Signed from Las Palmas in the summer window, most assumed Pedri would be one for the future at the Camp Nou. It was thought he would be on the fringes of the senior squad. A loan move away from Barcelona for the 2020/21 season also seemed a possibility. Instead, Koeman fast-tracked Pedri into the first team fold.
The change of system opened the door for the 17-year-old to make an impression. One of the first things Koeman did upon arriving at the Camp Nou was to move Barcelona away from the 4-3-3 shape they had deployed since the days of Pep Guardiola. Now, the Catalans are playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
While Koeman had a natural midfield two (Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong) to use in this system, he seemingly lacked a true number 10 to link the central unit with the attack. Philippe Coutinho was used in the role, with some early success, but his performances soon faded. Coutinho has always been most comfortable playing off the left.
Lionel Messi, the man who wears the number 10 shirt at the Camp Nou, is best off the right, occasionally used as a ‘False Nine’ as Koeman experimented early on this season. Meanwhile, Ansu Fati has made himself one of Barcelona’s most important players, scoring four times in seven La Liga outings.
Initially, Pedri was given his chance in behind the central striker due to Barcelona’s lack of options in that space, but the teenager grasped that chance with both hands. He brings a drive and creativity that makes the Catalan are more fluid, energetic side in the final third of the pitch. Barca are, quite simply, a better, more dangerous proposition with Pedri in the team.
“I knew Barca had signed him from Las Palmas and I had seen tape of him, but I don’t think anyone expected the rapidity of his development since joining - playing and training with the best players at Barca aged just 17, delivering such high levels of performance,” Koeman explained in a recent interview.
Pedri is the go-between for Barcelona. He takes the ball from the likes of Busquets and de Jong and moves it on to Ansu, Messi and Antoine Griezmann. The 17-year-old is capable of playing on the left, right or through the middle. He is not a player who restricts himself to a specific area of the pitch. In this respect, he is the closest thing to Andres Iniesta Barca have seen since the great man left the club two years ago.
This summer was a rough one for Barcelona as they experienced political turmoil and faced up to the possibility their greatest ever player could leave. All the while, financial insecurity continues to simmer. There was some success in the way the senior squad at the Camp Nou was recalibrated, with Barca more youthful and zestful than it has been in years.
Pedri, along with Ansu, is the best embodiment of this. Barcelona find themselves in the midst of a generational shift, both on the pitch and in the boardroom, but with teenagers like these two coming through, the outlook is still remarkably bright at the Camp Nou. It had already become exceedingly clear that Barca didn't have another player like Pedri. He brings something a little different, something Koeman can’t do without. And with his words on Saturday, it became clear that he brings something off the pitch as well: character that will help Barcelona emerge from these dark days with a bright future.