How can this be? That’s because Pedro offers something that Brazil lacks: an outside and outside striker, a tall striker with a penalty area and rich technical repertoire, able to finish with both feet or in the air, aware of what’s going on around him. He is able to bring others into the game with ingenious flicks and clever passes.
So why isn’t Pedro a household name all over the world? If he had all these virtues, why did his career take such a strange path?
Vickery: The motivation behind Gabriel Jesus’ move to Arsenal
– You don’t have ESPN? Get instant pass
The main explanation is that Pedro lacks one of the traits usually seen as essential to success in the modern game: he’s not fast. His movements are long and wobbly, sometimes making it look as if he was moving in slow motion. This is not a striker who can slip too much to run behind the line of defense. Obviously, this was a problem nearly three years ago when he moved across the Atlantic to join Fiorentina.
Pedro is one of the many successful recent productions of the youth academy at the Fluminense Club in his native Rio de Janeiro. The local Brazilian football, with its deep defensive lines, proved his admiration. In the tighter Italian game, it was hard to make an impression. He was flicked off the goal, away from the playing area where he’s doing his best work. It may also be that he has not yet fully recovered from a knee ligament surgery he suffered the year before. When he got injured, Pedro was just called up in coach Tite’s first squad after the 2018 World Cup. He had to drop out of school. Richarlison, who had just joined Everton at the time, came in to replace Pedro, and hasn’t looked back.
Pedro was only lamenting, but at least he knew the Brazil coach was impressed. After just half a season in Italy, he was loaned to Rio to join Flamengo at the start of 2020. By the end of the year, the club had paid €14m to make the deal permanent. He has proven his worth with a series of goals. One Brazilian commentator, who was a bit cocky, called him the best striker in the world. Why, then, did he find it so difficult to secure a spot in the Flamengo’s starting lineup?
The answer here lies in the club’s financial strength and the way in which the global market for players has developed. Pedro was joining one of the clubs that had just won the Copa Libertadores and the Brasileirao in a stunning style that makes 2019 a magical memory for the fans. Key to the victories – and style – were iconic strikers Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa and Bruno Henrique, backed by the talents of Everton Ribeiro and Uruguayan Giorgian de Arrascaeta. Three years later, the four are still at the club.
This is a symptom of a new era of stability. A few years ago it could be sold. Now, Europe is not anxious. Bruno Henrique and Everton Ribeiro are over 30, De Arrascaeta is 28, and even Gabigol, who is approaching 26, is considered old by the major European powers. They are no longer looking for the best South American players. They want the best prospects, age 22 or younger. Flamengo, then, is still fourth in the lead.
poses a question. Did they really need to make such an investment in Pedro? They find it difficult to use. Coach after coach – and they are currently fifth since Jorge Jesus, president, resigned in 2019 – is back to the front four he’s tried and trusted, leaving Tite to watch him frustrated.
The Brazil coach is well aware that Pedro is unlikely to be the first choice in Brazil’s attack. But he wants him as an option away from the bench, as he sees it specially designed for those matches where Brazil chases the match, when the opponent resorts to deep defense and events take place in and around the penalty area.
One of those World Cup qualifiers was at home to Venezuela at the end of 2020. Pedro came in in the last 15 minutes. It’s his only full international appearance to date, but Tite has never forgotten it. The Brazil coach celebrated when it was confirmed that the Qatar World Cup squad would be increased from 23 to 26. This gives him the opportunity to make more offensive choices, and Pedro is undoubtedly considering it.
But there were frustrations. Flamengo did not release their player for last year’s Olympics – an important stepping stone on the road to Qatar. The Brazil coach was heard lamenting the striker’s lack of first-team chances.
This, however, is definitely changing. Bruno Henrique’s injury left a hole, and on Wednesday night Pedro broke through in style. Against Tolima of Colombia in the Copa Libertadores, Pedro scored four goals and made others in a 7-1 carnage. It was the kind of solo performance that sends a message; But Flamengo has already established his team, it is difficult to consider Pedro as a reserve. And it’s even easier, with a string of matches behind him, to imagine him getting on the plane to the World Cup.