Everybody runs. We run for exercise, run for buses and trains, run because we forgot something. In many ways, running connects our adult selves with the children we once were, when we ran just to run, just to get the wind in our hair, just to feel the fleet-footed freedom that we had no idea we would miss until time and reality became shackles. Running lost something magical.
In the 115th minute of a UEFA SuperCup match, Pedro did it again, just like he did in 2009 … in the 115th minute of a UEFA SuperCup match … he scored a goal. And he didn’t just score a goal. He scored a goal by doing what he does, which is running, in that childlike way he runs, windmill arms flailing, torso trying to get ahead of his pumping legs, he ran onto a loose ball and knocked it past Sevilla’s keeper.
When Pep Guardiola introduced Pedro into the first team of FC Barcelona, he ran onto the pitch. Once on the pitch, he ran, and ran, and ran some more, sometimes in ways that made it unclear exactly why he was running or what he was running to, ways that made you wonder if after the match they just opened the gate to allow him to run straight from the pitch into the Barcelona night.
In one magical year, a year that became legend and defined a player in a way impossible for that very same player to ever again match, Pedro ran onto ball after ball and scored goal after goal in a player career defined by effort, defined by running. Player statistics measure distance covered, but it almost seemed like Pedro should have his own statistical measurement because he runs like nobody else.
He runs to stop a break. He runs to lead the Barça break. He runs for passes that never come. He runs for balls that he doesn’t have a chance in hell of reaching. He runs onto loose balls. He runs onto passes that become crosses that more celebrated teammates knock into the goal, boosting their individual tallies but acknowledging the man that made the goal possible with nothing more than a hug, an embrace that is, at the same time, everything.
Pedro runs because that is what he is: effort and energy, a being who is just about as completely selfless a player as most people have ever seen play football. Messi was voted player of the match, and well he should have been. But Pedro won it. In a month, people will still be talking about the two free kick goals that Messi scored, the free kick that became the rebound that Pedro alertly ran onto and slotted home. But they won’t be talking about Pedro, not that he will mind all that much, because that isn’t what he’s about.
In athletics, there are “hustle” plays and players, things done by people who aren’t stars and never will be but who have that something magical, that indefatigable quality that makes them capable of running, seemingly forever. If Pedro starts a match, he is running as fast and as far in the 90th minute as he is in the first. He is running long after his markers have run out of energy to kick him, running to help his team win.
An acquaintance is a runner. He’s a 2:30 marathon runner. When you see him running, you stop what you’re doing, because it’s beautiful, the fluid embodiment of what it should look like. Pedro doesn’t run like that. If you were to see him running in the park, you would think, “What the hell is wrong with that dude? Glad I don’t look like that when I run.”
But Pedro is running toward history. Pedro runs like he doesn’t care, because he doesn’t. Culers slag him, talk about how he only scores unimportant goals, or is only good when you need a 4-0 scoreline to be 5-0. They talk about him in terms related to his wonderful scoring exploits, reducing a bundle of selfless, pistoning bliss to mere goals. Lost in history is that Pedro had his best scoring year, statistically, under Tata Martino. They weren’t glory goals because the season didn’t turn out the way it could have, but he racked up goals nonetheless, running onto ball after ball and knocking it into the net.
And now Pedro is running away from Barça, after having run his way into a fairytale night.
At the end of last season a Barça legend, Xavi Hernandez, left the club on the back of a treble, captain of a team that won everything it could in that calendar year. It was a fairy tale ending to a great career, confetti, victory parades and roared adulation. It was perfect, a script that Hollywood would reject because it was too perfect. That stuff doesn’t happen in real life.
Yet another fairy tale ending came to Barça, to a player who has rarely gotten real respect from many culers. When he was scoring goals, it was said that he only scored tap-ins, benefiting from the exertions of more talented teammates. When he wasn’t scoring goals, it was said that he was crap because he wasn’t scoring goals any longer, that all he did was run, and anybody could do that.
And you watched Rafinha today on that same left wing that Pedro did his business on, the same Rafinha who already had the thousand-yard stare at halftime even though he didn’t run anywhere near as much, as far or as hard as Pedro and you wondered if the snarls were true, if anybody could really just run like Pedro just runs.
He was held out of the starting lineup for this UEFA Super Cup, rumor was at his request as he had already told the team that he wanted to leave. And so, at a key moment in the match, his coach, Luis Enrique, called upon him, and Pedro ran. He ran to glory, he ran to a goal that helped his beloved team continue its march toward underscoring its place in a history that it has already made.
He could have pouted, could even have refused to go in, could have dogged it, could have done any number of things, none of which are anything like what Pedro stands for. After the match, during the celebrations, every now and again a rueful, almost sad expression would cross his face at a time of unfettered joy, and you wonder if it was evincing the knowledge that this was it. That this group of players that had been through so much, was about to become lesser by one, that the stars he had logged countless, selfless meters for, scampering across grass patch after grass patch, would have to do without him.
It had to be Pedro, scoring in that way, at that time. It had to be, because fairy tales need to happen, sporting legend needs to be made. His teammates were mostly crap in the second half, playing like a tired team that seemed rather aware of its storied status, that let a lesser opponent back into a match that it had no business leveling. And you knew that if Pedro entered the match, that he would do what he does, and it would be enough.
Running, like life, can be beautiful. Effort can be liberating, selflessness rewarding. Pedro was never a star at FC Barcelona. He was a great many things, but never a star in the way that Messis, Neymars, Suarezes and Xavis were. He won’t be that star at Manchester United, either. But what he will be is what he always is, a dynamo of selflessness who understands that running isn’t just something — it’s everything.