Like England, Spain had been dumped out of Euro 2020 in the most heartbreaking of circumstances via a penalty shootout in their semi-final against Italy.
But when asked about the performance of La Roja’s latest prodigy, Pedri, Luis Enrique couldn’t stop himself from gushing like a proud uncle.
Trying to find the words, the Spain head coach said: ”What Pedri has done in this tournament, at 18, no one has done. Not even Andres Iniesta did that.
“It’s incredible, unique.”
It was quite the statement. As any football fan would know, Iniesta had enjoyed his status as one of the world’s most gifted midfielders whilst playing for Barcelona and Spain.
He had qualities that very few other midfielders could claim to have, giving off the illusion that he almost dances around the final third and picks out passes with precision and vision.
And it was difficult to dismiss the notion that Pedri is just like him.
The way he continuously protected the ball despite having a flock of Italy midfielders surrounding him, snapping at his ankles.
The way he picked out Mikel Oyarzabal with a defence-splitting pass in the first half, only for the Real Sociedad winger’s touch to let him down.
It was a mesmeric performance, encapsulated by the fact that, incredibly, Pedri had completed 65 of the 66 passes he attempted across the 120 minutes of action.
And it wasn’t a case of passing around the back, side-to-side. No, these were risky, positive passes that few others players would dare to make. In a 120-minute game. Against the eventual Euro 2020 winners Italy.
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At the age of 18.
For that performance itself, he quite rightly won player of the match and he went one further on Sunday, as UEFA named him their Young Star of the Tournament.
It was fitting too, for he had provided such energy and poise in the Spain midfield despite featuring in 55 matches for club and country in 2020-21.
He is not afraid to get stuck in with a sliding challenge or aerial. And what’s more, he appears to maintain a sense of bravery that some of his team-mates lack when taking a knocks during matches.
What all of this shows is that Pedri is not really anything like Iniesta, although the comparisons were understandable given their nationality and club links.
The former Barca man, now playing for Vissel Kobe in Japan, agreed that there were few likenesses between them but backed him to succeed in a long career ahead of him.
“I’ve never liked to compare, even though it’s inevitable,” he told Ibai Llanos on Twitch. “The same happened to me. The important thing is that he keeps doing what he’s doing.
“I see him enjoying himself when he plays, he doesn’t struggle to do things, everything is done easily and he’s generous with his effort.
“He has all the qualities, even though he is only 18. He has to keep learning and growing. He’s at a club and with the right national team to keep progressing.”
Pedri responded to those comments in the most mature way, refusing to become too giddy with such comparisons and suggesting he wants to be renowned for his own style.
“I want to be myself. Pedri. But it is an honour to be compared to Andrés Iniesta,” he told reporters.
Even if he is a Canary Islander by birth after coming through the academy system at Las Palmas and also a native Spaniard, his playing style is somewhat removed from the type of player they usually produce.
Spain’s youth system typically concentrates on developing a midfielder whose key attributes lean towards them being playmakers or No.10s. But Pedri has been carved into the shape of another Kevin De Bruyne or Mason Mount.
These are the modern midfielders that every manager wants first on the teamsheet due to their all-action style and tireless work ethic, regularly topping the charts in the ‘distance covered’ statistics section.
That includes developing a stamina to last through tough periods in games and track back to help defenders, retrieving possession in key areas of the pitch.
Their running is also crucial to carrying out a manager’s blueprint when pressing teams high up on the pitch, as Guardiola credited De Bruyne for his high-octane displays.
“We need him. Kevin is one of the biggest stars in the world right now and runs without the ball like he is a player from the Conference,” he said.
“He is an outstanding player, I know how important he is for us.”
But where they are separated from holding midfielders is their knack for creating and scoring. Even if Pedri’s record of five goals and four assists isn’t mind-boggling, the type of goals he scored for Barcelona this season — arriving late in or on the edge of the box — would suggest he is cut from the same cloth.
The fact that Pedri won the award is important in itself because it recognises his contributions that are not limited to just goals and assists.
Similarly, Mount was handed Chelsea’s Player of the Season award for his consistently superb performances, at times carrying the team on his back.
These players are relied upon by their clubs so much to the point that they may eventually burn out. Pedri appeared in all but one LaLiga match for the Blaugrana last season, while Mount missed only two Premier League games for Chelsea. Remarkably, they haven’t yet.
Had it not been for De Bruyne’s injury problems last season, he too would have almost certainly been a mainstay in Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City team. You can add Nicolo Barella, Joshua Kimmich and Eduardo Camavinga into the mix too.
Long gone are the playmakers carried by their team-mates with the small bonus of creating chances. These footballers — Pedri, De Bruyne and Mount — do everything, so why settle for less?