Premier League

Meet the Samba star the world's biggest clubs want to steal from Watford

 • by Tom Bodell
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Watford are used to the sharks circling, eyeing up their latest talent. In fact, they like it that way.

Last summer, after a single season in Hertfordshire, Brazilian forward Richarlison joined Everton in a deal worth up to £50million – a tidy profit on their £11million outlay.

Now the Hornets face the prospect of seeing another Samba star leaving for pastures new. Likened to Real Madrid duo Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo, both of whom left their homeland at a young age, 17-year-old João Pedro is yet to pull on the yellow shirt. In fact, he’s yet to even set foot in the UK permanently as FIFA rules prohibit the Fluminense forward from leaving South America until he turns 18.

At the time a £2million deal between Flu and Watford was struck in October, Pedro had not even made his senior debut for the Brazilian giants. But Watford’s famed scouting network know a player when they see one and Pedro will link up with the Premier League side in January 2020.

Five months after putting pen-to-paper on a five-year deal at Vicarage Road the teenage sensation made his professional debut against arch-rivals Flamengo in the Campeonato Carioca.

João Pedro celebrates scoring for Fluminense

In April of this year, his league debut against Goiás arrived. Goals were not far behind, seven of them in fact – in just four games – including a hat-trick against Atlético Nacional. At the time of writing, Pedro has nine strikes in his first 15 outings as a professional.

It’s little wonder then that newly elected Fluminense president Mario Bittencourt – a lawyer by trade – has pledged to scrutinise the contract between the two sides to see if the Brazilian outfit can hold onto their star asset a little longer before relinquishing him.

“His sale has messed with us all, not just for the sale, but the way the sale was made,” Bittencourt told the Brazilian press.

“There is no criticism about the suitability of the sale, which was made without any kind of problem. The point is that the club could have tried another way, another solution, before raffling such a talented player for such a low value.

“I’m going to see the contract. Let’s see if there is a possibility to make him stay longer.”

Of similar interest to Watford will be reported interest from Barcelona, Manchester United and Liverpool. It’s hardly the first time the Pozzo family’s forensic scouting network has left Europe’s biggest clubs red-faced.

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It cannot be a coincidence, therefore, the Hornets this week welcomed Pedro’s mother and stepfather, Flavia and Carlos, for a tour of their son’s soon-to-be-home – a very public reminder that the player, for now at least, is theirs.

Fresh reports in the Spanish press claim Fluminense would even consider paying £18million to the Hornets to cancel the deal and sell Pedro to Barcelona, still turning a huge profit on the prodigious forward. Even by the Pozzo family’s extremely high standards, netting that much for a player who never donned the club’s shirt would be a remarkable piece of business.

Not that they will see it that way. If Pedro can transfer his scoring record in Brazil to the Premier League, Watford could have a world-beater on their hands and someone who could far exceed the club-record fee received for Richarlison in 2018.

So what’s all the fuss about?

With just 15 senior career appearances under his belt, it would be unwise to make sweeping statements about Pedro. But what is clear from his already burgeoning highlight reel is he is a penalty-box striker capable of scoring with his right, left and head.

At 6ft he is strong in the air and already has a handful of headed goals in his resumé. Still quite gangly, Pedro is surprisingly quick and comfortable running at defenders, though his goals have almost exclusively been instinctive first-time strikes from close range.

His pièce de résistance, though, was the overhead kick he netted in a 4-1 Copa Sudamericana win over Cruzeiro (above). What makes the strike even more impressive is Pedro, running backwards the entire time, never looked behind him to check his position in relation to the goal. It was a strike of pure instinct.

Again, given his relative lack of minutes (just 1,000 in Brazi’s Serie A so far), it’s hard to draw too many conclusions from his statistical output. However, he is already posting extremely impressive numbers.

He is second among strikers in Brazil’s top flight for goals per 90, while his return of 0.45 big chances scored per 90 also places him second among his striking contemporaries and underlines his ruthlessness in front of goal. From 3.6 shots per 90 he finds the target with 37.5 per cent.

Pedro attempts 3.06 dribbles per 90, succeeding with more than 50 per cent, while he has 4.32 touches in the opposition box per 90, putting him 15th versus other forwards in Serie A.

Although yet to record an assist in the league, Pedro gets involved in build-up play and with 0.9 open-play key passes per 90, he is supplying his team-mates with chances, even if they aren’t taking them.

Given the commitment Watford made to sign Pedro before he had even turned professional, and the subsequent interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs, it’s clear his suitors believe his impressive start can be extrapolated out over a full season, and beyond.

Let the tug of war commence.

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