Pedro Rodriguez Ledesma is an odd one.
Few players have been so liked by his coaches, yet so reviled by so many supporters while being misunderstood by those same supporters. Some of that is because Pedro defies traditional metrics, those objective evaluators of a player’s performance. He’s the kind of player who would require the creation of a new metric, probably called “Pain in the ass.”
Because that’s what Pedro is. A couple of nicknames have been born in this space for him, Pedro! and a more accurate one, Pedro Roadrunner. Because he just runs. It often seems that he doesn’t even quite know when, where or why he is running, only that he is, in his perpetual quest to affect the disposition of a contest involving a brightly colored, spherical object. In that particular way, Pedro is as pure as Messi, that simple, unrelenting object. Run. And then run some more.
The problem for Pedro is that for two consecutive years he notched more than 20 goals. As the arbiter of football goodness for an attacker, goals can be a millstone. They hung heavily around the necks of Thierry Henry and Alexis Sanchez, just as they now hang heavy around the heck of Pedro. Because people want goals, and don’t care where they come from. Once you score goals, you are a goalscorer. And when you don’t score those goals again, the thing becomes “return to form,” as in “scoring goals again.” Yet the thing about Pedro is that he was never about scoring goals, even while he was scoring them.
For Pedro, his goals came during the years before Barça was being figured out, as teams adjusted to the reality of an inexorable passing game. Things were still innocent, and Pedro had running room. As Barca marauded, pinging shots off keepers and into the box, Pedro was there to capitalize on any and all loose balls. There is no more Pedro like goal than the one he scored in the manita Classic. It’s a goal that comes from running, from wanting to be around the ball and executing when he gets there. Give Pedro an open shot, and he will get it on target.
As defenses reshaped their approaches against Barça, space disappeared. And as space disappeared Pedro, like most mortal attackers, saw his gaudy scoring totals drop. But the one thing he kept doing was running and working. In the recent match vs Levante, Pedro was in the Barça box, defending, then on the other end, almost forcing an error from the keeper. He was on the left and on the right, determined to influence the match through sheer omnipresence.
So it’s fascinating the comments in various forums and social media that greet his appearance, from “Barça is playing with 10,” to “Pedro? Why didn’t they sub in XXX instead?!”
And Pedro runs in, and has an effect that isn’t quantifiable but is so helpful to his teammates from Dani Alves to Busquets and Iniesta to Messi and Neymar. It isn’t just that he is always there, waiting to become a passing outlet, track back or help on the press. He also, unlike most forwards, doesn’t throw up his hands after making a number of runs and the ball doesn’t arrive, and stop making runs. He doesn’t complain, he doesn’t mutter about playing time or have his agent generate transfer rumors. The only transfer rumors that involve Pedro come from others, who wonder why he is still “settling” for being a sub at Barça when he could go to another team and become a starter.
Pedro doesn’t care.
In many ways, Pedro is the ultimate defensive sub. He helps the midfield press, rarely makes the wrong decision with the ball, prioritizing possession over anything, and can run with almost any attacker in the league. His name keeps coming up when attackers who could be converted to RB is under discussion, and Pedro has said in the past that he’d love to be more forward, but anything that will help him play more is welcome. But he’s a defender who can take a sliver of space, take a pass and convert it into a goal, as another way to think of Pedro.
Neymar tracks back, but not like an attacker dedicated to it. Messi doesn’t fully track back except in rare matches. Suarez has an excellent work rate, but they all pale in comparison to Pedro. He has scored 5 goals this season but is the only player of his kind on the roster. He became a star under Guardiola, and his role began to change under Vilanova as opponents began to adjust. Under Martino in what became a more static attack, Pedro wasn’t being used to his strengths, stuck out the wing where he had to beat defenders off the dribble, which isn’t his suit. And the “Pedro sucks” legend began.
It’s only now, with a more open, dynamic Barça that his value again surges to the fore, even as many supporters still define him by what he used to do rather than what he does. Will he stay in the colors? Good question. It’s a safe bet that no coach in his right mind would sell a player such as Pedro, because those types of players are invaluable. Might he raise his hand and want to leave? He’s 27, fast approaching the time where that jackrabbit quickness will begin to diminish. Is it time for a big fee and a big payday? Only time will tell, but you get the feeling that Pedro just loves being at Barca even if his role isn’t what it could be, loves running and loves doing exacty what he does, which is to affect matches by dint of sheer, unrelenting effort. And that ain’t bad.