'The Olympics is not football' - Why Barcelona tried to block Pedri's latest Spain selection

Pedri Ronald Koeman Spain Barcelona GFXGetty/Goal

The Spanish FA raised eyebrows when they named an extremely strong squad for the Olympic Games football competition in Tokyo, particularly because of the inclusion of Barcelona starlet Pedri.

The 18-year-old midfielder, who won the young player of the tournament award at Euro 2020, could reach an incredible 66 games in a marathon 2020-21 campaign for club and country.

It has been a year to remember for the Tenerife-born playmaker, hitting the ground running after moving to Camp Nou, forging a deep connection with Lionel Messi and winning his place in Luis Enrique’s Spain side.

In fact, it seemed like he had done so much at such a high level that he would be considered beyond selection for the Olympic Games, which usually features rawer talents.

And yet, when Olympic coach Luis de la Fuente announced his squad list of 22 players, Pedri headed it up, along with fellow Euro 2020 participants Unai Simon, Eric Garcia, Pau Torres, Mikel Oyarzabal and Dani Olmo.

“These players will arrive greatly motivated, with greater experience,” explained De La Fuente, acknowledging some of these players were only there because the law in Spain obliges clubs to release players for the Olympics.

In addition to the Euros players, Spain are also bringing Real Madrid duo Marco Asensio and Dani Ceballos, as well as Real Sociedad’s Mikel Merino, Barcelona’s Oscar Mingueza and Valencia’s Carlos Soler.

Barcelona tried to resist Spain’s call for Pedri but were told to back down by the RFEF. Coach Ronald Koeman has also hit out against the decision to call him up.

Ronald Koeman Pedri Barcelona GFX

“For a football player, two top-tier competitions in the same summer is too much. Pep Guardiola has already said this, and I agree with him,” explained Koeman. 

“He played almost every game in the domestic season and has played just about every minute in the European Championship. To have a four-day break and then fly to Japan to play in the Olympics is not ideal. It's too much. 

"It's just a personal opinion but, for me, the Olympic Games are athletics and other sports – but not football. This is what I think, at least. 

"I understand that the players are keen to play, but we have a tightly-packed schedule and we need to protect our players.”

It’s understandable that Spain want to make an impact in Tokyo.

After a strong showing at the Euros, where they were unluckily beaten by eventual winners Italy on penalties in the semi-finals, they'd like to bring more cheer to a country that remains badly hit by the Coronavirus, in the form of gold medals.

However, it doesn’t show much consideration for players who have been playing without pause for over a year – something which could have repercussions further down the line in their careers.

If Pedri continues to be as overused as he has been by Barcelona and Spain, there’s a chance he will burn out before his time, despite his enviable stamina.

Spain – who face hosts Japan in a friendly before playing Egypt, Australia and Argentina in the group phase – are expected to go far and even win the tournament, due to the strength of their squad.

Pedri Barcelona Spain Olympics GFX

Barcelona can take some solace from the fact Lionel Messi won gold back in 2008 with Argentina at the Olympics, and it didn’t do his career any harm.

“The Olympic gold in 2008 is the win that I value the most because it is a tournament that you may play only once in your life and involves many athletes from different disciplines,” the No.10 once told Esquire.

Barcelona were locked in a battle with Messi over his participation, though, until new coach Pep Guardiola helped him win that fight. 

“Pep was phenomenal with me as nobody wanted me to go to the Olympics with the national team, but I wanted to go,” added Messi. “He was the one who gave me the permission.”

Messi paid Pep back in goals as the team went on to win the treble in the 2008-09 season, and while the Blaugrana are too fragile and fractured to expect anything like that next season, Pedri will at least be glad of the chance to compete at the Olympics.

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“Luis de la Fuente spoke to me before announcing the list for the Olympic Games," Pedri told Onda Cero radio. "I just love to play football and I'll be happy to keep playing. 

"I do, though, understand Barcelona's point of view because I have played many matches. But, I want to tell Barcelona that I'll arrive well-rested.”

The world is at Pedri’s feet right now and he doesn’t want the ride to stop.