“He is a big, big player” were the words of Brighton’s manager when he was asked his thoughts about Joao Pedro before the club confirmed his club-record 30 million, five-year deal. The striker is expected to join the team in the UK for pre-season training before the squad travels to the United States. Let’s take a look at Joao Pedro’s journey from childhood and then see what to expect from him at his new club.
Joao Pedro Junqueira Jesus was born on the 26th of September 2001, making him 21 years old. He was born in Ribeirao Preto in Brazil to Jose Joao de Jesus and Flavia Junqueira. Unlike many South Americans, Pedro was born into a fairly comfortable family. Pedro’s dad, popularly known as Chicao, was a combative defensive midfielder who played for Botafogo. Chicao helped Botafogo to the Sao Paulo State final in 2001 before losing to Corinthians. Chicao’s burgeoning career was cut short by a 16 years prison sentence for being an accessory to murder.
As a child, Pedro played football everywhere, from the parks to the streets and at home. His role models were Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Robinho, but Neymar was the most precious to him. He was captivated by Neymar’s dribbling and ability to see things others couldn’t.
Pedro’s career kicked off when he was ten. He played in a cup competition during which he scored two goals in a game. One was a header, the other a volley. His performance in the match led to interest from several clubs, including Santos, Sao Paulo and Corinthians, but his mum chose Fluminense. His mum and siblings moved with him when he joined.
His family’s move to Rio de Janeiro wasn’t an easy one — They struggled to make ends meet in a new town. Pedro and his family had lived a comfortable life in Ribeirao. Pedro attended a private school while his mum worked in sales and owned a property that the family leased out to help with cash while they tried to settle down in Rio. A mix of inability to find the right job and lack of tenant payment meant the family faced financial difficulties.
The situation got so bad that Flavia visited the Fluminense academy in tears and explained their situation to the authorities. The Fluminense Academy management provided monetary support for the family. This experience has remained with Pedro, who says the tough period strengthened his resolve to make it in football. “I think that experience made me realize that I needed to focus on football so that in the future, I could provide for my family, my mother and grandmother.”
Joao’s skinny frame and lack of coordination caused him difficulties as a teenager at Fluminense Academy. He began to train with the under-17 team when he was 16, under the stewardship of Eduardo Oliviera. Oliviera said his height and lack of coordination had made him an unrecognisable talent from the one purchased at 13. During Pedro’s progress through the Fluminense youth system, he also transitioned from a defensive midfielder (like his dad) to striker. A lack of opportunities when he joined the Under-17, meant he had to go through a testing time as a substitute.
Fortune turned up for Joao when the team’s main striker matriculated to the under-20 side. Under-17 coach Oliviera called him to break the news: “At that moment, I saw a really focused kid. I could imagine what was going through his head: Man, this is my big chance. I have been on the bench for two or three years, but now I have the chance to show what I can do.”
What followed was a period of brilliance. In one season, the teen striker scored 38 goals. Having the privilege to see Richarlison train at Fluminense before joining Watford strengthened his resolve to play in the English Premier League. Oliveira said “He dedicated himself completely. Every single shot he took was on target. That really caught my eye because it’s not easy to be so efficient in front of goal”.
His form at 17 attracted interest from Europe, with clubs like Man City, Liverpool, Barcelona and Watford jostling for his signature. Previous successful dealings between Fluminense and Watford gave the English side the upper hand, and a deal was eventually sealed for two million in October 2018.
However, he remained in Brazil for a further 14 months, during which he made his first-team debut. He scored in a 3-2 Rio State Championship defeat. During his short stint with the senior team, Joao Pedro scored seven goals and provided two assists in 28 games.
He finally flew to London on 18 of December 2019 alongside his mum Flavia, grandmother Dalva, stepfather Carlos Junior, agent Vinicius Viva and Youtuber best friend Ruan. The dramatic change in weather was one of the biggest challenges for the youngster. The family also found it difficult to adapt to new food. They eventually located a Brazilian store stocking traditional ingredients to help soften the culture shock.
The striker found minutes hard to come by at Watford, biding his time before making his debut against Tranmere Rovers in a disappointing second-half performance that saw the Premier League side surrender a three-goal lead to the League One side in the FA Cup. After the pandemic, he made his League debut as a substitute in a 3-1 defeat to Southampton. His time at Watford culminated in 24 goals and nine assists in 109 appearances.
What to Expect
Standing at 1.84 m, Joao Pedro is a lanky attacker who is adept at getting past defenders. His speed and physical strength make it hard for even bigger defenders to get the ball off him. His undeniable flair and eye for passes made him the most valuable player in the Championship last season.
When provided with space, Joao Pedro likes to stay on the shoulder of the last defender and wait patiently to chase a ball sent behind the defense. When facing a team with a low block, he drops deep to receive the ball and link up play. Whenever he drops deep, he prefers to penetrate the opposition’s defence using the right half-space. This helps create overload in this area while leaving more space for his teammates to do the damage.
The youngster’s two-footedness helps him stand out. It makes him a dangerous asset from any area of the field, as he’s able to take a shot or find a teammate with a pass. Once he gets close to a defender, he’s never scared of trying to beat his man. With 116 successful dribbles, Joao Pedro was the best dribbler in the Championship last season. His good balance, flair, and good turn of pace get him to get out of tight situations. At 6ft, he is no slouch in the air, winning 40% of his aerial duels last season.
Finishing is one area where Joao Pedro needs more work. Like many other youngsters, he’s inconsistent and can be carried away by the moment. He has a non-penalty goal-% of 0.32, which is higher than his non-penalty xG of 0.26. His xG is expected to increase at Brighton where he should receive better service.
How Will he Fit in at Brighton?
Pedro’s ability to play across the front will make him a valuable asset for Roberto De Zerbi. He can also fit in just behind another striker. Alexis MacAllister’s transfer to Liverpool leaves a hole in the number 10 position, but another youngster, Julio Enciso, has shown that he can replace the World Cup winner.
While Brighton did not have a pure number 9 in their squad last season, Roberto De Zerbi had options such as Danny Welbeck, Evan Ferguson, and Denis Undav. However, a total of just nine league goals among those three makes good reading for Pedro who singlehandedly scored more for Watford in the Championship last season.
Pedro’s heatmap at Watford shows that he prefers to attack from the left, which might make him a direct competitor with Kaoru Mitoma. He can also be deployed as a striker with the freedom to move around the front and switch positions with Mitoma.
Expected to be priced between 5.5m and 6.5m in FPL, Pedro seems like a reasonably priced attacking option in an exciting Brighton team. However, the presence of several other attacking options might serve as a hindrance to the youngster.
With Kaoru Mitoma penciled in for the left side of attack, Pedro will have to fight for a role alongside Welbeck, Undav and/or Evan Ferguson. There is also the option of playing just behind the striker, but he will have a fight on his hand to move ahead of the exciting Julio Enciso in the pecking order to replace MacAllister.
His average of 7.9 dribbles per game suggests that Pedro might not be the goal poacher many FPL managers look for when signing strikers. But his 99 touches in the penalty box and 77 shots for Watford last season also shows that he could be the team’s focal point when needed.
When all of these are put into consideration, it might be more reasonable to play the waiting game and see how he is utilized as the season goes on. It is highly unlikely Roberto De Zerbi will throw him straight into the thick of action with the number of options he has in attack.
What are your thoughts on Joao Pedro? Are you tempted to bring him in sooner rather than later? Please log in and tell us what you think in the comments below!