In an exclusive interview with Tokyo 2020, Spain's teenage footballing sensation Pedri talks about the 7 August Olympic final against Brazil, his run to the semis of the UEFA EURO with Spain's senior team and his extraordinary break-out season with club giants FC Barcelona.
When he steps onto the field at the Yokohama International Stadium this Saturday, Barcelona star Pedri will be playing his 73rd game of the season. No one has played more games than him in European football this term.
And all of this comes, extraordinarily, in his first season as a professional.
When asked about this fact, the midfielder from the Canary Islands laughed. “The truth is that everything I'm experiencing is crazy.”
A quick review of his debut season is revealing. He made his first appearance for FC Barcelona, nailed down an undisputed place in the starting XI, played in every competition and won the Copa del Rey (Spain's domestic club cup competition). He made his debut on the Spanish U-21 team, debuted too for the Spanish senior team, reached the semifinal of the EURO (Europe's star-studded Cup of Nations) and was named best young player of that tournament.
In the past month, here in Japan, he also made his debut on the Olympic team. And now, at the end of all that, he's going for gold in an Olympic final.
“I’m not one to stop and think about it,” Pedri said. “But I try to enjoy every day that I’m living because it’s amazing.”
During the summer, many 18-year-olds in Spain are concerned mostly with getting their driving license. Not Pedri. He'll be fighting alongside his teammates for the chance to return home with an Olympic gold -- Spain's first since hosting the Games in 1992.
“We’ve already won the silver but we won’t settle for that," he said, clearly driven to finish his marathon year with a strong final push. "We want more and gold would be a source of pride for me, my family and all of Spain.”
Brazil the best possible rival
Saturday’s opponents inspire respect (and even fear) with the very mention of their name. Brazil. Five-time World Cup winners, reigning Olympic champions and, following their performance at these Games, finalists of the last three Olympic Games.
“It is the best rival you can meet in a final because their players have a lot of quality and for the viewers and ourselves, it will be the best,' Pedri went on. "Both countries have amazing teams and it will be a very difficult match.”
While Luis de la Fuente’s Spain can count on Pedri, as well as five other players who starred at the EURO - and others such as Marco Asensio and Mikel Merino, who are first-team regulars, Brazil haven't turned up in Tokyo with a b-team. Their squad includes outstanding footballers like Diego Carlos, Richarlison of Everton and the player with the most titles in the history of football: one Dani Alves, still beloved by players and fans alike at Pedri's own Barcelona.
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"In spite of the years [Dani Alves is 38, twenty years older than the Spanish] he’s still a spectacular player and is playing at a great level in the Games," Pedri said. "What he's done in his career is truly amazing: the player with the most titles... I hope I get a chance to talk to with him a bit no matter what happens in the final."
Pedri hopes to return to Spain with the gold medal in his suitcase and, yes, maybe something else beside. "I hope we [Dani Alves and Pedri] can exchange shirts," he said with a smile.
Spain experts at suffering
In the EURO, Spain and Pedri went through three extra-time sessions and two sets of penalties and the road taken by the Rojita of Luis de la Fuente in these Olympics hasn't been short on suffering either. First, there was a bitter tie against Argentina (1-1) that gave them a place in the quarterfinals. Once there, a goal in the 92nd minute forced extra-time and an eventual win over the Ivorians (5-2) -- and, in the semifinals, they had to wait until the 115th minute of extra-time for Asensio to seal a place for Spain in the final.
"All the rivals have been very difficult, but if I have to choose one, it would be the match against Ivory Coast," Pedri said. "When we got that goal in the 90' (2-1) it was a hard punch because you think you don’t have time to react and score. But then came Rafa’s goal".
Unique experience of the Athletes' Village
As the Olympic football tournament is usually held outside the host city, it’s difficult for the footballers to get a sense of the Olympic Village. However, on this occasion, Pedri and his teammates found the opportunity to spend a few days there.
"It was very nice, because you see a lot of athletes who have fought to achieve their dream and are fulfilling it," he said. "And whoever they are and wherever they come from they all live in the same conditions, sleep in the same beds... And I have been able to meet many athletes like Pau Gasol, and also play with the Spanish table tennis players, which I love... It’s an experience that I will never forget."
Whatever happens, Pedri won’t forget about these Games and how he and his teammates got to the grand finale.
In Tenerife, where Pedri's parents run a restaurant, everything is in place to continue the tradition that, this year, has brought so much luck to the young man. "Every time I play a match my whole family gathers in the restaurant, they put on a TV and watch the game together. I always receive a picture of everyone watching it or a video celebrating a goal. And I really love it."
Pedri's message for his people in Tenerife, and those all over Spain who adore him, is simple: "I hope to bring you the gold medal to be proud of me and celebrate it all together."