Spanish football writer Pablo Duran shares his thoughts on Leeds United new signing Alfonso Pedraza with Phil Hay following the winger’s debut in the derby defeat at Huddersfield on Sunday.
At CD Lugo, they knew from the outset that Alfonso Pedraza was only passing through. He was Villarreal’s player and his loan in Spain’s second division was as much for the benefit of his parent club. That Pedraza contributed so well in half a season with Lugo meant everyone was happy.
The winger left suddenly to join Leeds United last week with Lugo sixth in their division, helped by Pedraza’s six goals and eight assists. Lugo lost what Pablo Duran, a Spanish football writer, calls their “best player, a pillar of the system of coach Luis Cesar Sampedro” but it was taken as read that Pedraza’s time there would be brief. What surprised everyone was Villarreal’s willingness to discuss a permanent transfer to Leeds.
Pedraza moved to Elland Road on a six-month loan, having terminated his season-long deal at Lugo at a cost of £300,000 but Villarreal will sell him for £8.5m if Leeds win promotion to the Premier League in May. According to reports in Spain, that option is obligatory and regardless of Pedraza’s form or his success in adapting to English football. Lugo gave the 20-year-old his first taste of regular senior football. England is another challenge again.
Duran, who has followed Pedraza and Lugo this season, did not expect Villarreal to relinquish him so readily, despite the club recruiting another left winger in Italy international Nicola Sansone during the summer.
“Villarreal work very well with young players and they have one of the best (academies) in the country,” said Duran, who writes for El Progreso newspaper in Lugo. “It’s at the same level as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao or Sevilla and they have a certain way of taking care of young talent. They put them first in the reserves and then loan them out to improve their game in higher divisions.
“It’s weird that Villarreal were ready to lose him so quickly because it’s not usually what they do. Pedraza was a great talent for them and they scouted him at every game with Lugo. Maybe they think Sansone has closed Pedraza’s path to the first team.”
Pedraza has made occasional appearances for Villarreal’s senior team but prior to joining Lugo in July, he played for Villarreal’s reserve squad in Segunda B, Spain’s third division. Those who followed him saw what Leeds witnessed in glimpses of his debut at Huddersfield Town on Sunday: pace, quick feet, a willingness to run at defenders and a good finish. With Pedraza on one flank, Lugo’s top-scorer, Joselu, claimed 15 goals from 23 games. No striker in the league has scored more.
“Pedraza had a great impact at Lugo,” Duran said. “He connected perfectly with the fans with some spectacular football and he made a special relationship with Joselu. Losing him to Leeds was a drama and it’s a great loss offensively. Pedraza was essential to quick attacks and he created a lot of space for the other forwards.”
His speed allowed Lugo to play on the counter, a tactic United head coach Garry Monk tried to employ with Pedraza on the pitch as a second-half substitute on Sunday. Pedraza’s turn of pace almost told immediately as a driving run and shot drew a full-length parry from Huddersfield goalkeeper Danny Ward. At the end of a 2-1 defeat, Monk conceded that Leeds had not been able to play to the likes of the Spaniard enough.
The weaknesses in Pedraza’s game, according to Duran, relate to fitness and defensive duties. Duran describes him as a “vertical (direct) and explosive player” whose style can make 90-minute appearances a problem. He also expects Monk to school Pedraza in the modern English mindset where wingers cover for full-backs and vice- versa. “But the direct game in England might be very good for Pedraza,” Duran said. “He can take advantage of free space and the quick transitions. He is best when (counter) attacks are launched with open space in the opponent’s half. If he adapts well to the environment and the language, I think English football can be perfect for him.”
Monk talked about Pedraza and Mo Barrow, the Gambian winger signed by Leeds from Swansea City last week, as being “like-minded to the group I already have – very young and coming here with something to prove.” Duran believes Pedraza, who has been capped by Spain at Under-21 level and was part of the squad who won the European Under-19 Championship in 2015, will fit easily into United’s dressing room, saying he is a player who likes “a simple life”.
“He’s quiet and quite shy with the fans and the press,” Duran said. “But he was appreciated in the dressing room because he’s a simple guy without luxury tastes or a difficult attitude. He’s good for the dressing room and his personality won’t be a problem for the club or the team. He just has to adapt to living in England.”
At £8.5m, Pedraza would be United’s most expensive signing since the ill-fated £11m purchase of Robbie Fowler in 2001. Leeds will have the funds to finance that deal if they reach the Premier League. Should the club remain in the Championship, Pedraza will head home to Villarreal.
“At the moment, 10 million Euro is a lot for a guy who’s played only half a year of professional football – and for a small team in Spain,” Duran said. “But he can be a good investment because he’s a great prospect. He can improve his game at a club like Leeds and in the future he can be a (full) international player. There’s a good generation of Under-21 wingers in Spain so he has a lot of competitors. But he has the skill and attitude to reach that.”