el mundo en nuestras manos – Chapter 4
Chapter 4: Pedro scores and scores
“With the 18, he sprints to the bathroom. He sprints to eat. He goes to bed and runs in bed. The authentic and incomparable… Pedrito!”
A pleasant surprise of the World Cup. He won the confidence of the coach, so much so that he started the semifinal and final games. He won his spot on the team due to his own merits in the training sessions and when he had to play. He displayed exemplary behavior.
The words of Víctor Valdés affirming that the right of Iker Casillas to start was not a matter of discussion had effectively closed out that debate. Valdés spoke those words after we had played the first of three friendlies, a game against Saudi Arabia, and before the coach had decided that both Víctor and I would play in the second game against South Korea. It was good that the plan of who was to be in goal had already been decided beforehand. Perhaps it wasn’t important at all in hindsight, but it was in that moment. This once again shows that when you don’t know something, it’s better to shut up than to speak and look bad once all the facts are out.
We started preparing for those friendlies. Our stay in Europe was prolonged by the fact that we would be the last team to start playing in South Africa. We were to play two games in Austria and one in Murcia before flying to South Africa.
The debate over the goal continued. The game against Saudi Arabia ended 3-2. I already knew that we would not play as we had during the qualification and in other friendlies, but our goal was to arrive in the best possible manner to the World Cup. So we didn’t understand why people doubted us based on 90 minutes in which we didn’t play our best, but served to warn us that nothing would be easy.
The season had been very tough for all of us. Most of us had played 50 games between our clubs and the national team. The overburden on our legs meant that the first training sessions were more about prevention and recovery than physical preparation. There would be time in the future to work hard.
That was the primary reason why in the first two games you didn’t see the Spain that you were expecting. We didn’t play well. It’s also true that the rivals weren’t randomly chosen. For some time now, the teams that played against us had come out firing from the first minute. And, although it was a friendly, if there is a team that defends to the death and never stops pressuring, it’s South Korea. They defended and ran during the entire 90 minutes. It also took a lot of effort to beat Saudi Arabia. In both games, our legs didn’t listen to our minds. That’s why these two games ended up creating doubts in the group, in the same way that people doubted Iker.
It was so easy to say that just because he hadn’t played well in one game, he should be benched. When it comes to Iker, you can’t talk about his performance in one month, but in his entire career. And everyone seemed to have forgotten about the importance of his contribution to the national team, of his leadership, of the respect that both his teammates and rivals had for him, of the millions and millions of things that Iker brings to the team… But we should stop talking about the captain, because he’ll have his own chapter later on.
And on the bus that I’m traveling on mentally, I fixate on Pedro. It’s a good thing that he’s sitting! I don’t think it will be long before he’s up and running again. I’m sure that if he ran to the restaurant, he’d arrive before us on the bus. He never stopped running during the entire World Cup. It didn’t matter where he was going. It didn’t matter what he had to do. I’m sure that in the shower, the water wouldn’t even have time to reach his feet.
From the first training session, the Canarian showed he was capable of sacrifice. He knew how to adapt perfectly to the group from the first day. And it wasn’t because he felt at home, with so many players from Barcelona there. It’s because he’s just like that. Pedrito is a very good-natured guy. You feel affection for him from the first day because he’s like a kid. Everything is very natural with Pedro. He won over the people and the group.
But you don’t get to start the final of the World Cup because you’re a good person and people like you. No. This is professional sports, a sport for the elite and at the highest level. Those who play do so because they’ve earned it. No one just gives away a spot in the most important game in four years. He got his reward, and got to play in the final of the World Cup from the beginning.
He deserved this reward because he did so well at Barcelona. When a player is able to score in every competition in which Barça participated and is a key to the six titles that they won in six months, he deserves a place of honor in his club and another with the national team.
At least Pedrito, who would become Pedro in a few days, made people forget for a while about the debate over who should be in the goal. Now, the question was whether he would be able to to score a goal in the World Cup, to see if he could score with any shirt he put on and in any competition.
The face of Pedro in his debut, like those of Víctor Valdés and Javi Martínez, made me remember my own face in Gijón in 2005. There, I listened to the national anthem for the first time as a starter with the national team. The rival was Uruguay and I will never forget those teammates that were with me that day, from the starters to the substitutes. It was in August, and at last Iker Casillas had moved aside. Míchel Salgado, Marchena, Puyol, Del Horno, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Joaquín, Vicente, Morientes and Raúl were the starters. Sergio, Luis García, Sergio Ramos, Antonio López, Luque and Fernando Torres also played. Six of these men are here with me now, five years later, celebrating the World Cup.
How many times have I stared at that shirt, now framed and hung on the wall in my house? I confess, I love having the shirts of the best players in the world. I have no problems in asking players I’ve faced and those I haven’t for their shirts. I have the shirts of Zidane, Messi, Drogba, Cristiano… A good number for my museum. But the one I feel the most affection for is that which José Francisco Molina gave to me. People might be surprised by this. But there’s an explanation. For me, he was the one that changed the mentality of goalkeepers. The first modern goalkeeper. He had everything. I asked for his shirt after a game between Barcelona and Deportivo, but he had already promised it to someone else. I thought I would have to wait for another occasion, to see if the next time I would be as fast as Pedro when he plays, in order to get his shirt. But I didn’t need to. Molina remembered that young goalkeeper that was just starting out in the first division and he sent me a shirt by mail. Now, years later, when we have a beer together in Ibiza or in Madrid, we talk about this anecdote. Now, years later, I continue asking him for advice because he continues to be a reference in my career.