Watford's Joao Pedro can be the next Brazilian Premier League star but it won't happen overnight
Watford's next game -- at home on New Year's Day against in-form Wolves -- could be the European debut for newcomer Joao Pedro. The 18-year-old Brazilian, who recently arrived from Fluminense, was presented to the crowd before the last home game, and now is eligible for selection. Some Watford fans see him as a possible saviour, the striker whose goals will haul the side to Premier League safety, but that surely is asking too much, too soon from the teenager.
Back in May, Pedro went from unknown to household name in the space of a few days. He announced his presence in the Fluminense first team with a flurry of goals -- left footers, right footer, headers and even a spectacular bicycle kick. But more than just goals, he showed impressive vision and build-up play. His talent is beyond dispute but the comparisons with the young, original Ronaldo are missing one major point.
There were two outstanding qualities of Ronaldo, abilities which marked him out as one of the all-time great centre-forwards. One was his calmness in front of goal, his capacity to keep his head still, decelerate and pick his spot. The other was the acceleration, as he may well have been the quickest, most powerful player ever running with the ball. Joao Pedro may develop the finishing skills, but there is little sign yet of the awesome burst of pace that Ronaldo could produce at a similar age, that surge that took him away from his marker and left defenders desperately trailing in his wake.
After that prolific start to his first-team career (seven goals in four games), the goals dried up for Pedro, and as Fluminense battled -- successfully -- against relegation, he ended the season out of the side. True, he was suffering from an ankle problem but his overall form in the second half of the year makes it unlikely that he will be an instant sensation in the Premier League. In fact, with his teenage frame yet to completely fill out, it is possible that the speed and physicality of Premier League defenders will come as a nasty shock.
That is not to say that he is a bad signing. On the contrary, he could prove to be a magnificent piece of business for a club which excels with scouting. Watford have already hit the jackpot once doing a deal with Fluminense. Richarlison, not widely seen as a huge talent when they bought him for between £11-13 million, was splendid for the Hornets and the club sold him on to Everton for an initial £35 million at a huge profit. In the short term, it is hard to see Pedro matching the same kind of physical intensity that is one of Richarlison's calling cards. But in the long term, Joao Pedro could prove every bit as useful.
His signing is an example of the current trend of European clubs buying young players from South America. They have come to the thoroughly understandable conclusion that a huge chasm has opened up between top-class football on both sides of the Atlantic. This leaves them unsure about South American-based players in their mid 20s; can they adapt to a more intense game with higher defensive lines and less space on the field? So now many are bringing them over as early as possible (at the age of 18) so that they can develop their talent in Europe.
This might make sense from a football point of view, but it is not always advisable from the perspective of a human being. An 18-year-old footballer is often less mature than a normal teenager, and going through the changes of late adolescence is not easy even at home. In a strange land, with a different climate, language and culture, it can be very disorientating. Basically, it is not for everyone.
The good news here is that Pedro comes across as impressively levelheaded and articulate. He is also blessed with the presence in the Watford dressing room of former Brazil national team goalkeeper
Heurelho Gomes, a hugely respected figure who has a track record of helping his compatriots settle in to North London life. Gomes, as he has done before, will again take on the role of a pseudo-paternal figure.
It is astonishing to think that Gomes is a full two decades older than Pedro. With the number 17 shirt on his back, and just 18 years to his name, Watford's new striker now sets out to make his name in the Premier League. He is a good bet for success but don't expect it to happen overnight.