Fiorentina may have seen no use for him after just four games in their colors and he has spent much of the last two years on the bench. Still, Flamengo striker Pedro is a good outsider to make it into Brazil’s World Cup squad.
How can that be? Because Pedro has something that Brazil lacked: a thoroughly strong center forward, a big forward with box presence and a rich technical repertoire, who can finish with either foot or in the air and knows what’s going on around him and can bring others into play with skillful shots and clever passes.
Then how come Pedro isn’t a household name around the world? If he has all these virtues, why has his career taken such a strange path?
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The main explanation is that Pedro lacks one of the qualities that are usually considered necessary for success in the modern game: he is not fast. His movements are long and jerky, sometimes making it seem like he’s moving in slow motion. This isn’t a forward that can often be pushed behind the defensive line. And that was clearly an issue almost three years ago when he moved across the Atlantic to join Fiorentina.
Pedro is one of the many successful youngsters at club Fluminense’s youth academy in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro. He liked the native Brazilian football with its deep defensive lines. In the more compact Italian game, it was harder to impress. He’s been held farther from goal, away from the area of the field where he does his best work. It’s also possible that he hasn’t fully recovered from knee ligament surgery he suffered the previous year. When he picked up the injury, Pedro had just been called up to coach Tite’s first squad after the 2018 World Cup. He had to get out. Tottenham Hotspur signing Richarlison, who had just joined Everton at the time, replaced Pedro and has not looked back.
Pedro could only whine, but at least he knew the Brazil coach was an admirer. After just half a season in Italy, he was loaned back to Rio at Flamengo in early 2020. By the end of the year, the club spent €14m to make the contract permanent. He had proved his worth with a barrage of goals. A Brazilian commentator enthusiastically described him as the best centre-forward in the world. Then why is he having such a hard time getting a place in the Flamengo starting XI?
The answer lies in the club’s financial strength and the development of the global player market. Pedro joined a club in full swing that had just won the Copa Libertadores and the Brazilian league with a swaggering style that will make 2019 a magical memory for fans. Key to the conquests – and style – were famed four forwards Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa and Bruno Henrique, backed by the creative talents of Everton Ribeiro and Uruguayan Giorgian De Arrascaeta. And three years later, all four are still at the club.
This is a symptom of a new age of stability. A few years earlier they would have been sold. Well, Europe is not keen on it. Bruno Henrique and Everton Ribeiro are past 30, De Arrascaeta is 28 and even Gabigol, who is approaching 26, is considered old by Europe’s great powers. They are no longer looking for the best South American players. They want the best prospects, 22 and under. So Flamengo still has the famous Front Four.
It raises a question; did they really have to invest that much in Pedro? They found it difficult to use. Coach after coach – they’re currently in fifth place since boss Jorge Jesus stepped down in 2019 – have returned to the tried and tested front four, leaving Tite watching with frustration.
The Brazil coach is aware that Pedro is unlikely to be the first choice in Brazil’s attack. But he wants to see him as an option off the bench and sees him as tailor-made for games where Brazil are chasing the game when the opposition resort to deep defense and the action takes place in and around their box.
One of them was the World Cup qualifier at home against Venezuela in late 2020. Pedro came on as a substitute for the last 15 minutes. It’s his only full international appearance to date, but Tite has never forgotten it. The Brazil coach celebrated as it was confirmed that the World Cup squad in Qatar had been increased from 23 to 26. It gives him a chance to choose more attacking options and Pedro is certainly on his mind.
But there were frustrations. Flamengo would not approve their player to take part in last year’s Olympics – such an important step on the way to Qatar. And the Brazil coach can be heard bemoaning the striker’s lack of first-team opportunities.
But that will certainly change. An injury to Bruno Henrique left a gap and last Wednesday night Pedro crashed through in style. Pedro scored four goals and set up more in a 7-1 massacre against Colombia’s Tolima in the Copa Libertadores. It was the kind of individual performance that sends out a message; Although Flamengo have set up their squad from now on, it’s hard to see Pedro as a reserve. And it’s easier to imagine him boarding a plane to the World Cup after a string of games.