It’s a tough ask to replace the triangle of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Sergio Busquets, and in fact, Spanish football has learnt that ugly truth the hard way.
As it happens, Iniesta and Xavi were undoubtedly two of the best players of their generation, and stars of that quality are as rare as gold dust in the modern game. But after a miserable World Cup 2014 campaign, a disappointing Euro 2016 and a chaotic 2018 World Cup, there is finally a glimmer of hope on the horizon.
That rainbow at the end of a miserable spell of torrential rain is Pedri. The 18-year-old has burst onto the scene for Barcelona this season, slotting into Ronald Koeman’s midfield with frightening ease.
In fact, his performances have taken the attention away from fellow wonderkid Ansu Fati, who has suffered rotten luck with injury over the past year. But few would have expected Pedri to grow into such an influential figure in Spain, nor that he would become a regular starter in the national team’s midfield.
But Luis Enrique has placed his faith in the teenager, who he believes can fire la Furia Roja to European glory this summer. It has to be said, based on the evidence we’ve witnessed so far, Spain are not going to be bringing futbol home in July.
They were unimaginative in the goalless stalemate with Sweden in their opening fixture, and equally as unconvincing in a 1-1 draw with Poland on Saturday. Those unsatisfactory results have left qualification for the next round hanging in the balance, with question marks hovering over the majority of the starting lineup, as well as their coach.
But no one can point the finger at Pedri for their failures. He was impressive once again in the Spanish midfield, showing endless composure and a knack for picking out killer passes in the final third of the pitch – just what has been missing from the country’s game for so long.
Pedri’s vision is a thing of beauty. He almost bagged a delicious ‘pre-assist’ midway through the first half, clipping a stunning ball over the top of Poland’s defence into the path of the onrushing Jordi Alba, who brought it down and whipped a cross into Gerard Moreno.
Unfortunately, the finish was lacking. His influence and energy in the midfield did not go unnoticed by Enrique, who opted to substitute Atletico Madrid talisman Koke ahead of Pedri. It was clear to see why, too.
The Barça star never stopped running, and even when Moreno had missed from the penalty spot, and Morata had spurned yet another glorious opportunity, he didn’t let his head drop. There was even a concerning 10 second-period when Poland fancied snatching the win, and broke in a two versus three situation in injury time.
The Spanish defence backtracked, waiting to be saved. Sure enough, a nimble frame darted back, stuck out a leg, dispossessed the Poland star and laid the ball off for Spain to get moving up the pitch again.
Of course, it was Pedri. He looked completely exhausted at the end of the match, having given his all for the jersey. In the end, it wasn’t enough. But he’ll be able to look himself in the mirror and admit he did everything he could to claim three points against Poland, as la Furia Roja’s hopes go to the wire.
One thing is for sure, though. If Enrique feels the need to ring the changes, Pedri’s place in the starting lineup is secure.