“He wasn’t quite Maradona,” the Portuguese said of new signing Pedro after Chelsea’s 3-2 win over West Brom, “but he was close.”
The 28-year-old winger would have heard and read plenty of those comparisons during his time at Barcelona but they were almost exclusively about teammate Leo Messi, and never Pedro himself.
Here, it was the Spaniard’s turn to take centre stage, and he more than stepped up.
That in itself throws up a few relevant points about the very process of reinforcing teams and releasing players’ full potential.
Even if Jose Mourinho’s comparison was somewhat fanciful and exaggerated, given the way in which Maradona dominated games, it is still fair to say that Pedro was the dominant figure in this one. It could even be argued that he alone ensured Chelsea won their first game of the season, given how he scored one, set up another and generally re-invigorated what had been a stale-looking attack.
It was the sort of incisive display that hadn’t really been seen from Chelsea for the last few months, but also the kind of influential display that hasn’t really been seen from Pedro throughout his career.
For the majority of his time at Barcelona, and as an obvious consequence of playing with someone as good as Messi, the winger was not too much more than the support act.
He would score match-winners, of course, but there was always a sense of him filling in the gaps around the real talent. In the end, from the time when he was a bona fide starter, it could even be said that he merely filled the gap between stars like Thierry Henry waning and stars like Luis Suarez arriving.
The perception was of Pedro mostly just following orders. That was not the case at West Brom. He didn’t just follow. He led the way, he was the one making things happen.
He was coming into his own.
In essence, he was also becoming something rather different to what he’d been at Barca.
This is relevant for more reasons than just making Chelsea better, but also because of the general dynamic of the market and the game.
When you stand back and look at it, one perspective is that Mourinho is trying to catch up with European champions Barcelona by signing one of their unneeded cast-offs. It’s almost the same with Manchester City and Kevin De Bruyne. They’re trying to catch up with the English champions by signing one of their cast-offs.
Except, as Mourinho himself has been at pains to point out in defending the thread of sales that has led to the purchase of Pedro, it’s not quite that simple. It’s not really Chelsea signing Barcelona’s version of the player, or City signing Chelsea’s version of De Bruyne.
They’re in a different context, in a different system, with different demands and responsibilities.
It’s all the more pointed as the transfer window comes to an end, especially at the other two Champions League clubs.
Arsenal have not yet signed an outfield player this summer because Arsene Wenger specifically wants the kind of special star that would obviously upgrade the team, and Manchester United have been quite blatant about their desire for a “marquee name”.
Of course, a star signing brings benefits for the squad beyond the class that makes them stars - not least the general lift it brings - but a policy of only signing such names for teams that still need obvious upgrades is a curious one.
Consider the last two big names United signed: Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria. Of all the signings that Louis van Gaal has made, they’ve probably been the only real failures.
The less eye-catching buys have had a more visible positive effect on the team and it does bring us back to the obvious, even if there is still so much debate about the last week’s big transfer - how different would Pedro have made United’s attack look against Newcastle.
He himself looked much more than a £21m signing.
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