ANALYSIS - Raisa Simplicio & Rupert Fryer
“The midfield is home to the craques,” sings great Brazilian musician Samiel Rosa in E uma Partida de Futebol, his ode to the Global Game. “The centre-forward,” he adds, “is the most important.”
For decades Brazilian football produced them in droves, establishing a great tradition of no.9’s – from Tostao and Careca to Romario and Ronaldo, the Selecao has always been home to the world’s greatest goalscorers.
But in recent years the production line has slowed. Brazil’s ultimately disastrous World Cup 2014 campaign was, in part, due to the lack of a top-class leader of the line, despite Fred having impressed in the 12 months prior to the tournament.
Indeed, the biggest task facing current coach Tite when he arrived in June 2016 was to find a no.9; a punt on then unproven teenager Gabriel Jesus proved, as the coach put it, “better than I’d ever hoped’.
But this year a new contender has emerged in Fluminense’s Pedro, who back on the scoresheet this past weekend as his side drew 1-1 with Bahia. Collecting the ball back-to-goal before turning and curling a tremendous 20-yard finish into the far corner for his 10th goal in 15 Brasileirao appearances this season to lead the goalscoring charts.
The 21-year-old is fast establishing his reputation as the best centre-forward in domestic Brazilian football and already appears set to follow the likes of Thiago Silva and Marcelo from the Flu youth setup to one of the world’s biggest clubs.
And it's not only his goals that are impressing the locals. His sense of positioning and the power in the final third have seen him earmarked for a big future both at home and abroad, earning praise from a local legend.
"He’s still young and there's a lot going on but he's already improved a lot,” Magno Alves, who hit over 100 goals for Flu, told NetFlu. “He's got everything a striker needs: size, strength, he can finish… but he perhaps still need to improve in the air.”
There is plenty of time to do so and, standing at over 6 foot, the youngster certainly has the physical attributes to pose a significant aerial threat – perhaps the one thing the current Brazil side are lacking with Jesus and Firmino, a point made to Brasil Global Tour by Tim Vickery on the eve of the World Cup.
With two assists also to his name, Pedro has had a direct involvement in almost two-thirds of his side’s goals so far this season. There is no doubt of his importance to a Flu side that has seen their best players leave the club frequently in recent years after investment in the playing staff dried up significantly.
This time Flu are keen to hold on to their star player for that little bit longer – a bid from French club Bordeaux has already been rejected – however Borussia Dortmund are reportedly becoming increasingly keen to bring him to Germany.
Not that Pedro is ready to let the speculation knock him out of his impressive stride. "I do not care which team is watching me,” he said this week. “I just try to do my job, which is to play well for Fluminense and to score goals.''
With the European transfer window coming to a close, Flu now appear set to hold onto him until at least the end of the current campaign, which may well be best for an in-form youngster desperate to force his way into what may well be a fresh-faced Brazil squad later this month.
Having penned a new contract that will take up him through World Cup 2022, next week should see Tite announce his squad for the September Brasil Global Tour dates with USA and El Salvador.
And having already made history as Flu’s youngest leading scorer of the Carioca state championship, Pedro is now setting his sights on making his name on the international scene and his fabulous strike against Bahia would no doubt have impressed Tite’s assistants, Matheus Bachi and Fernando Lazaro, who were watching on from the stands when he faced Defensor in the Copa Sul Americana on Friday.
Pedro is far and away Flu’s most important – and on current form he could yet prove important to Tite and Brazil in 2022.