Pep Guardiola was the scourge of the superstars. He preferred to sell them than sign them.
Deco and Ronaldinho left Barcelona in 2008, Samuel Eto’o in 2009, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thierry Henry in 2010. It permitted the primacy of Lionel Messi, allowing him to build a team around the man he regards as the greatest ever footballer.
Yet it also facilitated the promotion of an unknown from the ranks. Pedro was prodigy then. He is opponent now, a Chelsea player intent upon defeating his former mentor.
He raised the stakes in the build-up, agreeing with an interviewer that Antonio Conte is as good a coach as Guardiola.
His words carry the weight of a World Cup and triple Uefa Champions League winner, a status it is implausible he would enjoy without Guardiola’s patronage. He was the understated antidote to the attackers Guardiola inherited, a graduate of La Masia, a man who wanted to supply Messi, not compete with him.
No wonder Guardiola called Pedro “the image of the team”. Perhaps because others were not championing his cause, the Catalan was happy to.
“Pedro has become vital for us, absolutely fundamental,” he said in 2010. “He is a role model, a great. He always exceeds expectations.
“If Pedro was Brazilian, he’d be called Pedrinho and we wouldn’t have enough money to afford him.”
That was in Pedro's second successive annus mirabilis. He made history in 2009 by scoring in six different competitions. He was a World Cup winner in 2010, little more than a month after his international debut. An unassuming 22-year-old had capped an extraordinary rise.
Fast forward to the modern day and, as he prepares to start against a Guardiola team for the first time, Pedro’s fortunes are on the up again.
Yet what may have surprised Guardiola – the 2010 variant anyway – is how much they suffered in the intervening period.
The post-Pep Barcelona embraced their version of Galacticos, assembling perhaps club football's greatest ever strike force of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. Pedro was first substitute, then surplus to requirements.
He went to Chelsea as their marquee signing last summer but ended last season with his lowest goal tally – eighth – and league finish – 10th – of his senior career. He started this season on the bench.
Even his own manager suggested he saw him as a squad player. “I’m very happy for him and [Victor] Moses, another player who you wouldn’t think in pre-season would be in the starting 11,” Conte said last week. The Italian was more effusive when he spoke to Gazzetta dello Sport, saying: “Pedro? He has qualities of absolute excellence. He’s perfect for the 3-4-3.”
So the Spaniard has looked, roaming alongside Eden Hazard as one of the inside-forwards.
Yet it still required the misfortune of Willian, missing games due to injury and family bereavement, for Pedro to return to the side.
He has seized the chance in the sort of way he did at Barcelona seven seasons ago: six games have brought three goals and four assists.
He opened the scoring in the rout of Manchester United in October. He levelled with a glorious goal from 20 yards against Tottenham Hotspur last Saturday.
He is illustrating the tactical intelligence that endeared him to Guardiola, proving he can dovetail as effectively with Hazard and Diego Costa as he used to with Messi.
Only the great Argentine scored more goals for Guardiola's Barcelona, a sign Pedro's comparatively low profile should not obscure his effectiveness. Or, indeed, the Manchester City manager's alchemy.
“He has been everything to me,” Pedro once said of his former manager.
He is proof of Guardiola’s skills as a talent spotter. Now he will try to illustrate them to overcome him.
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