“If in a Europa League final the rival does not demand you, when is he going to demand you? United will have their moments and we will have ours. It’s going to be a very, very long game. “
Alfonso Pedraza contemplates the future as one who studies the evolution of a storm. He knows that this Wednesday (Movistar, 9:00 pm) Villarreal will have to overcome a barrage to beat Manchester United in Gdansk. He also knows that the only way to achieve this is by being perfectly aware of the difficulties to face them with patience and care. His reasoning is devoid of epic. With just 25 years of age, the gaze of the lane is the realistic gaze of the farmer.
“I am from San Sebastián de los Ballesteros, a small town of 800 inhabitants of the Cordovan countryside founded by Carlos III with German settlers ”, he says. “Sag, my second last name, is German. I have grown up in the country. The olive grove has been the illusion of my father and mine. Agriculture is one of the things that we are passionate about and relax us. My father and mother worked their whole lives in the fields. My father was a truck driver but as a child he had no choice but to go to the fields to pick beets or cotton. I have sucked that and I have taken it like my father’s dream. Because he is retired and now he has an entertainment and an illusion. Now we take the crops to a cooperative that has an oil mill, but in the future I would be very excited to create something related to oil. It is a product in which our country is a star ”.
“For me, as for my father, there is no greater pride and satisfaction than having an olive grove in Córdoba,” he concludes. “Soccer is up to 35 years old. Then you have to make a future for yourself. Putting the money in an investment fund will not make you enjoy as much as giving work to your family in your land. I am from the country, I love the country and I want to live in the country ”.
Pedraza, who has invested his savings as a soccer player in buying an olive grove, plays soccer with the same clarity with which he observes the world. “I remember as if it were yesterday the day that Villarreal came looking for me,” he says. “It was more than ten years ago. He was playing for the Córdoba national team against Malaga and Granada as a second-year cadet. I was a left-handed winger but in that tournament, I don’t know why, I played on the right and got out. I scored two goals. When I came out of the dressing room my father told me that Villarreal loved me. I didn’t believe it. I used to play for Seneca and I was surprised that a team from so far away noticed me. Maybe a Sevilla, a Betis, a Cádiz … But Villarreal? ”.
In 2011 he moved to the Villarreal residence. Two years ago, after a loan at Leeds, he re-converted to full-back. For him, a stem of 1.80, the process was not easy. He did it thanks to his sense of observation. “The wings are smaller, more skilled,” he says. “You look at Jordi Alba and he’s short. Gayá is short … I like to watch the video clips of my matches. It helps me to shape myself, to be with the line of four well positioned. When it comes to playing you have to be good with the ball and aware of everything that happens on the field. But then you watch the game sitting at home, and if you analyze it you see that there are many things to improve: covering a center, closing with the line of four, putting a center in front, orienting yourself when covering a pass from the inside, be well outlined to intercept … Outline well is to gain a second on the move. Smaller players have more spark and don’t need to position themselves as well. Tall players must be well profiled. I am good with meters ahead. I have a lot of stride. In short spaces it is more difficult, it is more difficult for me to move. But if they throw a ball at the back of the defenders, I see the unmarkings well ”.
One of the most common plays of this Villarreal is the automatic, blind pass of Moreno, Moi or Trigueros, to the back of the rival right back. They know that Pedraza will be there on time. “That goes in the instinct of the player”, he says, “in knowing how to read the game, in knowing how to understand your partner, how he is going to throw you, in the race, if looking for the foot or the space”.
Pedraza’s secret weapon is his gaze. When he reaches the last quarter of the field, no matter how tight the play is, he always raises his head before directing the ball to the spiker. This is how he has achieved score two goals and give four assists this season, between dozens of unbalancing plays. “In the beginning I would arrive and take the center out very quickly,” he says. “Emery has corrected those actions for me. You have to take advantage of everything. I get to the top, I look and you know where each partner is going to go. The striker at the near post, the midfielder at the penalty spot … Those things are given by the coach’s organization and from there the teams improve. Emery insists a lot on not crossing but on giving a pass to his teammate. Apart from Alba, who is the best full-back in the world without any doubt, for the others to reach the baseline and get a good pass is complicated. Creating opportunities without spaces is the most difficult thing in football. Spinning fine in those last meters is what gives you points: you can play better or worse but the one who scores the most goals wins ”.
Through hard work and determination, Alfonso Pedraza has become one of the best lanes in the League. A symbol of everything that the last Spanish club to survive in UEFA competition represents.