Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 3 April 2020

Was Pedro the right man in the right place at great teams or a world-class player in his own right?

Spaniard confirms his Chelsea career will conclude at the end of this season

Under other circumstances, Pedro could have pronounced himself vindicated as he announced his exit. Instead, as he readily admitted, there are more important issues right now. But he has confirmed his Chelsea career will conclude at the end of this season. His final appearance for a while, anyway, was a throwback. His belated first league goal of the season came in the 4-0 thrashing of Everton.

It was a reminder of the attributes, the clever movement and precise finishing, of the player who had become English football’s most decorated understudy. When Pedro struck against Arsenal in Baku last May, he became one of the select group to win the Europa League, the Champions League, the European Championships and the World Cup.

That a serial trophy-gatherer was discarded for much of the campaign was a sign of the boldness of Frank Lampard, the relative rookie of a manager who was brave enough to omit two World Cup winners, in Olivier Giroud and Pedro, while pursuing a youthful vision.

Pedro has resurfaced in recent weeks, regaining his place. But he also read the writing on the wall. With Hakim Ziyech arriving in the close season, with the promise of Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount, Chelsea are shaping a future on the flanks and it is younger than a man who turns 33 in July.

In a way, it would be fitting if Willian, whose contract is also up on June 30 and who also has offers, joins him in the departure lounge, though his exit would be mourned more.

Theirs has been a five-season job-share, a choice between deluxe alternatives who were normally competing to be Eden Hazard’s sidekick, but also to sit in the shadows of the luminescent Belgian.

Pedro was the regular starter in Antonio Conte’s title-winning campaign of 2016-17; he was a key part of the tactical revolution, liberated to become a second No. 10 by the switch to 3-4-2-1, flourishing between the lines.

Yet in each of the other four campaigns, Willian has made more starts. Lampard became an admirer of the all-action Brazilian; keeping him is more of a priority.

The paradox is that seemingly interchangeable players are so different. Willian can feel at his best in adversity. His finest Chelsea season amounted to a one-man effort to stave off humiliation; he was their player of the year in the wretched 2015-16 and again in the underwhelming 2017-18. Pedro, in contrast, peaked in Conte’s glorious debut year of 2016-17.

Pedro set the tone for the fractious 2017-18 with his red card in the Community Shield; a second sending off came amid a meltdown against Norwich when he and Alvaro Morata were dismissed within minutes.

Rewind to his arrival in England and a goal 20 minutes into his debut at West Bromwich Albion proved deceptive; it was to be his only league strike under Jose Mourinho, who was sacked with Chelsea in 16th.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Pedro of Chelsea breaks away from Michael Keane and Djibril Sidibe of Everton to score his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Everton FC at Stamford Bridge on March 08, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Pedro was arguably Chelsea's best finisher. Getty Images

Pedro had prospered in Lionel Messi’s slipstream at the Nou Camp and, when Hazard had his worst season in England, he could not compensate.

Which is a way of wondering how good a man who rarely transcended his team was. He was a great player in a great Barcelona unit, a very good player in a very good Chelsea team but sometimes an undistinguished footballer in some undistinguished outfits.

He can be a barometer, whereas Willian might fight against the prevailing weather. Perhaps Pedro had been the right man in the right place in golden groups for club and country, rather than a world-class player in his own right, but that was part of the art of a footballer who was probably Chelsea’s best finisher.

Go back to 2015 and his arrival was seen as a coup. It was in part because Chelsea plucked him from under the noses of Manchester United as Louis van Gaal dithered.

Over five years, he justified his arrival, but it is worth remembering United then switched their attentions to Sadio Mane. If they rue the one that got away from them that summer, it should be the Senegalese, not the Spaniard.

Updated: March 26, 2020 04:26 PM

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