Player Features

Pedri is being doubted at Barcelona like never before – he needs a reset


Xavi has not delivered the kind of attacking play Barcelona fans would have expected since he returned to the club as coach in 2021.

But at the end of last season, when Barca lifted their first league title since Lionel Messi’s departure, he knew who the team missed the most in that department when he was out injured.

“Without Pedri, everything falls apart,” coaching staff sources — who, like all those cited in this article, will remain anonymous to protect relationships — said of Xavi’s thinking.

Less than a year on, however, the 21-year-old midfielder has been left out of Barcelona’s starting XI in their last four league games. Pedri returned from injury more than a month ago and Xavi has insisted he is perfectly fit, but his status now looks very different.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Barcelona injuries: Pedri’s case, training concerns and a worrying expert view

Xavi has preferred Ilkay Gundogan, Fermin Lopez, Sergi Roberto or even centre-back Andreas Christensen as options in midfield in recent games, leaving Pedri in the role of impact sub.

That is partly a strategy from the club to protect a player who has struggled with injuries over the past three years. Xavi and Barca do not wish to overload Pedri and want to do everything possible to ensure a smooth return to full fitness.


Pedri has suffered a series of injuries in recent years (Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

But there have been growing concerns within the club about some of his recent on-pitch contributions — something they had taken for granted since he joined from Las Palmas in 2020.

“It had all been great since he made his breakthrough in the first team and now probably he is going through a more difficult time — but that’s something that happens to every Barca player,” a club source says.

“It’s all about ups and downs. We know how the pressure impacts players and the scrutiny they have here.”

The source points to the return leg of Barcelona’s Champions League quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain, the first and only game Pedri has started since returning from his last setback, a quad injury suffered against Athletic Bilbao in early March. Pedri struggled after Ronald Araujo’s red card left them with 10 men and was replaced after 62 minutes, with Barca going on to lose 4-1 on the night.

Then there was a La Liga Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu five days later. Pedri came on at half-time but was exposed tracking back as he tried to catch Luka Modric in the build-up to Jude Bellingham’s winning goal for Real Madrid in stoppage time.

Executive sources at Barcelona insist the 18-cap Spain international is one of the club’s “untouchables” during this summer’s transfer window, but even those who are close to the player say they have never felt this much doubt and uncertainty around Pedri.

Last summer, selling him would have been viewed as sacrilege at Barcelona. Today, individuals at the club would not be so bold as to say that.

Barcelona’s ‘entorno’ — the club’s environment or surroundings — is toxic. It tends to focus on players who are underperforming and is often fuelled by well-placed figures inside the club.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Barcelona’s ‘entorno’ – the toxic mix not even Guardiola and Xavi could avoid

Pedri has felt the weight of that this season and has been forced to address rumours about his lifestyle, which have put his professionalism in doubt. The player and his inner circle have been forced to deny those accusations.

“When you’re injured, you’re forgotten and a lot of people talk,” Pedri said in a January interview with live streamer Ibai Llanos. “They’ve said I like to party and that I go out a lot, which is completely false.

“They’ve also said I play with fear of getting injured again, but I can tell you that as soon as I step onto the pitch, I just forget about any injury.”

His brother Fernando made his own statement on social media after the recent loss against Madrid, hitting back at suggestions Pedri was more focused on partying than performing for Barca.

“You can like or dislike my brother’s sporting career, but doubting his work rate and his dedication to the team is simply not knowing us at all,” he said. “You’re absolute idiots and liars.”


The midfielder, left, was not at his best in Barca’s Champions League exit to PSG (David Ramos/Getty Images)

Despite the noise around him, Pedri’s mind is made up — he wants to stay at Barcelona and succeed at the club he has loved since he was a child when his family were part of an official Barca fan club in their hometown of Tegueste on the island of Tenerife.

But he knows there are still things to be discussed when it comes to his future.

The last time Pedri publicly spoke was before the Champions League quarter-final second leg against PSG. He told reporters then that he expected the club to “fulfil their promise with him”.

According to a well-placed source, that promise was a verbal agreement reached between the player’s camp and Barcelona in 2021 — when his last contract extension was signed.

Barca’s sporting directors, then led by Mateu Alemany, promised Pedri they would revisit his contract in the medium term to reflect him being one of their key players. There was no timeframe set for this as Barca’s critical financial situation made it impossible to predict what would happen, but the intention among all parties was clear.

As things stand, however, this new round of talks has not taken place. Pedri’s deal runs until 2026.

The midfielder is not in a particular rush. Those who know him best say his only aim is to make sure he gets back to the best version of himself after all his recent injury struggles.

He will welcome the arrival of new personnel in the backroom staff next season when Chelsea’s former fitness coach Julio Tous is expected to join. Tous will focus on strength conditioning and injury prevention, an area the club believed needed improvement. The former Spanish national team physiotherapist Raul Martinez, who has been consulted as an external expert over the past two years, will also work more closely with Barca.

There is an expectation Pedri will join up with Spain at this summer’s European Championship in Germany, even though he has not played for his country since the 2022 Qatar World Cup. He has not been available for selection since Luis de la Fuente took over as national team boss in February last year because of his repeated problems, but his potential and the expansion of squads to 26 players means he could be given a spot.

Pedri wants that tournament to be a turning point and a chance for him to return to his best form.

Above all, he will seek a full reset after his most complex season yet at Barcelona.

(Top photo: Jose Manuel Alvarez/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)





Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button