The one memory I have of Pedro Rodriguez that springs to mind whenever I think of him is the goal he scored against Argentinean side Estudiantes in the 2009 FIFA Club World Cup final to bring us back level (1-1) right at the death. He ended that calendar year with the unique record of having scored in all 6 competitions we were involved in (and won!). The following season, the boy had become a man. The way he plays ties strongly to the old adage that "the badge on the front of the shirt is more important than the name on the back". He decided that it was time to swap "Pedrito" for "Pedro".
Pedro offers work ethic, proficient technical ability and tactical versatility and has proven that he has good goalscoring ability. Off the pitch, he does not create any trouble or spark controversy. In essence, he is a near-perfect team player that any club would love to have. I'm glad we have him on our side, at least till the end of this season. Before I go any further, this isn't a tribute article to Pedro. Rather, I'll be looking at the possible replacements for that 4th-choice forward spot that we'll have to sign or promote from Barca B if Pedro does leave this coming summer. Personally, I'd prefer if we found a replacement in-house. Here goes (in no order of rank):
The Spanish youth international has impressed with his moves up the ladder in La Masia since joining the club as an 8-year-old in 2004. The directness with which he plays is refreshing to see, as he seeks to use his incredible pace and power to overcome any obstacles in his way to goal (or to making an assist). His footballing qualities are clear; however, his lack of experience stands against him becoming our 4th forward option. We are competing at such a high level, especially in the UEFA Champions League that we cannot afford to have our 4th forward make mistakes that are down to inexperience and hence making the wrong decision. For example, hypothetically, electing to go for goal in stoppage time when we are leading by a 1-goal margin away from home in the 2nd leg of a UCL knockout stage fixture. Like a number of the other options, it is a catch-22 situation with Adama.
Munir El Haddadi
Versatile and able to play across the forward line, including through the middle. This versatility gives Munir an advantage over his other "competitors", who are able to play only one or both wide roles. He is also technically adept and capable of pulling off the unexpected moment of magic every now and then. Physically, Munir possesses a turn of pace. More important is that he has the football intelligence to know when to use his turn of pace and how to maximise its threat to his opponent.
Pace. Pace, pace and more pace. Oh and the lad can finish too. That sums up the impact that Cristian Tello can bring when coming off the bench. Pace is an attribute that is highly sought after at every level of the game. Tello broke into the 1st-team under Pep Guardiola and impressed with his speed but ultimately stagnated due to a lack of regular minutes (one could say that he did not particularly impress regularly enough to have been deserving of regular minutes). Now on loan at Porto till the end of 2015/16, Tello has impressed and recently scored a hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Sporting CP.
Sandro has proven his goalscoring ability at youth level and has the required work ethic to function in the Barca system. Being able to play across the forward line makes him versatile. Sandro would bring what Pedro has brought to the squad since he broke through - a handy goalscorer who also works hard for the team.
We've known about Gerard Deulofeu for years now. The ex-Everton loanee had his breakout season a few years ago, the season before he joined Roberto Martinez's side on loan. For all his strengths, and there are many, his attitude is the key factor that is holding him back from really "making it" at Camp Nou. He has been labelled as selfish, arrogant and "not hardworking enough". Those labels have something to them, as we have seen over the years. That said, Sevilla coach Unai Emery has a reputation for defensive solidity, discipline and a strong work ethic. Hopefully Emery will be able to drill some of that into young Gerard. Hand on heart, if that does happen, the sky's the limit for Gerard Deulofeu.
The Celta youth product has impressed with his performances since his loan move to Sevilla last summer. Suarez has the football intelligence and technical ability to be a star at the highest level. The Galician makes up for his lack of pace and power with guile and technical skill. He could be deployed in a wide role a la Iniesta (when he has played there).
On the whole, it seems that Cristian Tello's time has gone at Barca. It looks like he'll be leaving us, perhaps making his loan move to Julen Lopetegui's Porto a permanent one. There are still too many question marks in key aspects where Gerard Deulofeu is concerned. He needs to stay out on loan. If he puts his mind to it, an extended loan spell under the guidance of Unai Emery will serve him well in succeeding at Camp Nou in the long-term.
I'd go for a mixture of Adama Traore with one of Munir El Haddadi, Denis Suarez or Sandro Ramirez to fill the gap if Pedro does indeed leave us this summer. Adama has the unique blend of pace, power and technical ability that sets him apart from the others as a tactical option; in a way, he's a more well-rounded Tello. Munir/Suarez would bring guile and technical skill to the table. As said above, Sandro brings what Pedro offers to the table but in a different guise, as a natural No 9. With such a pair of Adama+Munir/Suarez/Sandro, both players would get sufficient minutes to develop further despite playing squad roles - seeing as they'd be sharing the 4th forward spot.
Of course, we could wait and make a new signing in January 2016. However, I strongly believe that our young talents have what it takes to share this replacement role in the short-term and eventually establish themselves as 1st-teamers in their own right.
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