It all got a bit weird after Pedro inevitably fired home the Super Cup winner in Tbilisi last night. An already awkward situation, in which Barcelona’s technical secretary Robert Fernandez told the media that the Spanish international had signalled his intent to leave, became even more uncomfortable after the final whistle.
We all saw the scenes; the Barca players all grouped together on the podium awaiting yet another piece of silverware and Pedro, a somewhat disinterested figure on the periphery of his teammates, many of whom he has called brothers since his days as a teenager on the fringes of the first team. It was his final farewell, the last nostalgic embrace before leaving for pastures new.
The 28-year-old looks destined to join the scattergun revolution of the eccentric Louis van Gaal at Manchester United, despite denying he has asked to leave the Catalan giants. Pedro has become a cruel victim of the spending power of football’s elite, ousted by one of the greatest front threes the world has ever seen.
Under Pep Guardiola he was a perfectly crafted cog in the tiki-taka machine constructed by the now godlike manager. In the 2009-10 campaign he became the first man to score in six different club competitions as he racked up 23 goals. He followed that with 22 the following season and has gone on to reach double figures every year since. However, he has found himself a marginal figure at the Camp Nou of late, through barely any fault of his own.
It may seem bold to claim, but this transfer would represent a serious case of déjà vu. A very similar move was completed by ‘He Who Shall Not Be Named’ (David Moyes, there, we did it) just over 18 months ago.
When the Red Devils signed Juan Mata in January 2014 the vast majority of supporters were delighted. A player of proven Premier League quality who had won the Player of the Year award in successive seasons at Chelsea, this was a footballer who had lifted the World Cup and the European Championship; he represented a major addition for the club.
However, Mata was not what was needed. Man United was, and still is, a club in transition after the departure of the behemoth of management that was Sir Alex Ferguson. Serious problems needed addressing back in 2014, as they do now in the present day. Simply adding a player who can play anywhere in the three behind a striker is not enough.
The immediate need is for a quality striker to provide cover for skipper Wayne Rooney. Radamel Falcao proved an expensive flop last term, while the silver flecked Robin van Persie was shipped out to Turkey after showing signs that it was not just his follicles that were on the wane. The Dutch manager will surely not want to see the window slam shut with just Javier Hernandez and a 19-year-old James Wilson as back-up.
If he thinks Pedro is his man, then he may have got it very wrong. Yes, the Blaugrana number seven has operated as a striker at times, but with all due respect to Manchester United, they do not operate in the same system as Barcelona. The Spaniard is a wonderful footballer, blessed with splendid movement and creative flair – two things that Van Gaal has called for in attacking areas – but he does not solve the gaping hole at a club where the fans expect to be challenging for the title. He adds to the blend but he does not complete the recipe.
The aforementioned Mata has struggled to get to grips with Van Gaal’s, at times, rigid setup, something that Pedro is sure to suffer from too. The former Netherlands manager may call for dynamism in the final third but he is a great purveyor of shape and stringency at both ends of the pitch. Take his side’s opener against Tottenham as an example. United deployed Mata on the right, Ashley Young on the left and new man Memphis Depay in behind Rooney. That structure did not really change throughout the game, and it is that inflexibility that harnesses Mata’s influence on matches as he becomes torn between drifting inside and begrudgingly providing width.
Spanish footballers are nurtured with flexibility at the heart of their game and, for all his class, Pedro could find himself a shackled accessory at Old Trafford.
His talent cannot be doubted, but if Pedro is to be the only new face through the door at Old Trafford when the window slams shut, then Van Gaal could find himself fielding a few tricky questions from supporters and media alike.