João Pedro: The Brazilian wonderkid ready for Premier League stardom by Shay Hicks

João Pedro: The Brazilian wonderkid ready for Premier League stardom by Shay Hicks

Player Bio:

Name: João Pedro Junqueira De Jesus
Nationality: Brazilian
D.O.B: 26/09/2001 (21 years old)
Height: 182cm (5’11.5″)
Strong Foot: Right
Current Club: Watford
Position: Centre Forward, Attacking Midfielder, Left Winger
Value: £17.50m (via Transfermarkt)

Career Summary:

João Pedro is a young Brazilian attacker, known for his flashy dribbling and goalscoring potential. João is arguably the standout talent in a Watford attack that boasts a plethora of talent. Playing alongside established attacking players Ismaïla Sarr and Keinan Davis, as well as promising young players such as Colombian wonderkid Yáser Asprilla, João has looked particularly impressive in a season where Watford will surely look to return to the Premier League. However, Premier League clubs such as Newcastle and Everton heavily linked to him throughout last summer, Watford will do well to hold onto Joao during the January transfer window.

Born in Ribierão Preto, around 150 miles away from the city of Sao Pãulo, João had a very difficult start to life. At the age of 3, João’s father (former Botafogo footballer Chicão) was arrested and given a 16-year prison sentence. However, João and his mother struggled with the hardship, and at the age of 8 he would join his father’s former club Botafogo’s local youth academy. Initially playing as a defensive midfielder, he impressed several scouts from top-flight Brazilian clubs whilst playing in a youth tournament, and would eventually join Fluminense’s youth setup.

Pedro would initially struggle to find his place in the youth teams, but after a while, he would work out a better position for himself as an attacker. A combination of his natural flair and high work rate would impress his coaches, and when then-17-year-old Marcos Paulo (now of CD Mirandes, on loan from Atletico Madrid) was called up to play for Fluminense’s senior squad, João seized the opportunity in front of him and became a key member of the under-17 starting lineup. Despite the fact that he was yet to make a senior appearance, João was already a hot commodity to many European clubs, and the 16-year-old star would follow in the footsteps of compatriot and former Fluminense standout Richarlison and agree a deal to sign for Watford. Whilst there were conflicting reports, the transfer fee was rumoured to be around £10 million including bonuses at the time. As he was an international player and only 16 at the time, the deal wouldn’t be completed until January 2020, meaning João had a season left with Fluminense before he could join The Hornets.

Focusing back on Fluminense, João would quickly earn his first appearances in the Fluminense senior squad, and he made a very good first impression. He made his senior debut in the 2018/19 season as a late substitute in a 2-1 loss to Flamengo in the knockout stages of the Taça Rio, the second round of the Campeonato Carioca. He would continue to make occasional appearances as a substitute across league and cup competitions, and his first goal would come in May, scoring a late equaliser from a corner in a 1-1 game against Cruzeiro in the first leg of their Copa do Brasil tie. Just 3 days later, Fluminense would play Cruzeiro in the league, and João would be subbed on in the 70th minute and score twice to secure a 4-1 victory at home. The next week, João would announce himself as a serious talent, scoring a perfect hat-trick and providing an assist in his first senior start (a 4-1 victory at home against Atlético Nacional, in the first leg of a Copa Sudamerica tie). You would be forgiven for thinking Pedro had a vendetta against Cruzeiro, as he scored a sensational 97th minute bicycle kick to equalise in the second leg of their Copa do Brasil tie. Unfortunately, he would miss a penalty as Fluminense were eliminated, but in the space of a few short weeks João had gone from a young player trying to earn first team minutes to a bonafide star. Whilst he would only score one more goal for the rest of the season, everyone had seen enough to realise why Watford were so willing to spend millions on the teenage prospect. João’s last appearance in a Fluminense shirt came as a substitute against Fortaleza in early December of 2019. He had turned 18 that September, so he was finally eligible to complete his transfer to England.

On January 1st 2020, João signed a 5-year contract with then-Premier League club Watford. There were rumours of clubs across Europe being interested in the youngster already, but Watford were patient and eased Pedro into their first-team squad sporadically. His first appearance for Watford came in the FA Cup, just 3 days after signing for the club officially. He was a half-time substitution in a 0-0 draw against lower league club Tranmere Rovers. He would be named as a sub in a Premier League game for the first time later that month against Aston Villa, and shortly afterwards would make his first Watford start in the replay of their FA cup tie against Tranmere. He played a total of 81 minutes before being subbed off, in a game that Watford would go on to lose 2-1 in extra time. Given their abrupt elimination from the cup competition, João’s game time was limited for the rest of the season. He would be included in more matchday squads towards the end of the season, but played just 22 total minutes across 3 substitute appearances, primarily as a Left Winger. Watford would be relegated to the Championship at the end of the season.

Watford’s relegation and the subsequent loss of first-team attacking players Gerard Deulofeu and Danny Welbeck meant that João was given the opportunity to play regularly in the 2020/21 season. Watford would show their faith in João for the upcoming season by giving him the number 10 shirt, previously occupied by Welbeck when he arrived at the club. He would not disappoint, playing primarily as a centre forward for the Hornets. He would score his first Watford goal early in the season, a deflected shot from 6 yards out in a 1-0 win against Luton Town. João went on to score 9 goals and provide 3 assists in a season where he would win Watford’s Young Player of the Season award. Watford finished 2nd and earned automatic promotion back to the Premier League.

João would struggle in his first full season in the Premier League, in a season where Watford were yet again relegated. He scored his first Premier League goal as a late substitute in a memorable 4-1 win at home against Manchester United, but would only score 2 more goals across all competitions for the rest of the season. However, his confidence was not affected by this frustrating period, as he has had a red-hot start to the 2022/23 campaign. He has gelled very well with the new generation of Watford’s attack, scoring 6 goals and assisting twice in 16 appearances. Watford are currently sat in 5th in the table, but have won 5 of their last 7 games as they look to gain promotion again. With the array of attacking talent currently at their disposal, it would be shocking to see them fail to make it back into the Premier League.

Notable dates in João Pedro’s career:

19/10/2018 – Watford agree deal to sign João from Fluminense for £10m
28/03/2019 – Makes his senior debut for Fluminense as a late sub
29/04/2019 – Makes his league debut for Fluminense as a late sub
16/05/2019 – Scores his first senior goal for Fluminense
24/05/2019 – First senior start for Fluminense, first career hat-trick
05/06/2019 – Scores iconic bicycle kick vs Cruzeiro
30/10/2019 – Granted work permit to play for Watford
01/01/2020 – Officially joins Watford
04/01/2020 – Makes his Watford debut
21/01/2020 – Makes the Watford league matchday squad for the first time as a sub
28/06/2020 – Makes his Watford debut as a sub
11/09/2020 – First league start for Watford
26/09/2020 – Scores his first goal for Watford
11/05/2021 – Named Watford’s young player of the season
20/11/2021 – Scores his first Premier League goal

Performance analysis – Watford vs Reading, 08/11/2022:

– Showed great poise and coolness to ignore the goalkeepers’ mindgames and convert the penalty he had won
– His fast feet and close touch whilst dribbling helped him to frustrate defenders, as a result, he was frequently fouled and won his fair share of free kicks
– Looked very comfortable when behind the striker, would often drift out wide or make runs forward in attack
– Would have liked to see him press slightly more often, didn’t seem to press quite as much as players around him and was sometimes slow to react in transition
– Accurate with his short passes in the midfield third
– A moderate threat from long range, collected the ball with his back to goal and forced a good save from Readings’ sub goalkeeper
– Did seem to step up his work rate slightly in the second half
– Recovered the ball well multiple times
– Regularly won ground duels
– Struck the ball very well on the volley for his second goal
– Still managed to show flashes of his dribbling ability despite being tightly marked for the majority of the match

Here, João displays his attacking intelligence and vision. He collects the ball in midfield and striker Keinan Davis makes a run down his right side. Initially, João elects to run towards the centre of the field, but Keinan’s run goes unnoticed as both the Reading defenders in front of him are only paying attention to João. He notices this before anyone else and plays a good through ball through a tight window down the right wing. He follows up his pass by making a run into the box, but ultimately the possession comes to nothing.

This is another example of João’s attacking intelligence. He recognizes the space in front of him, so he makes the run toward the left hand side of the Reading box. Ismaïla Sarr recognizes the run and plays a smart through ball to put João in a good position to either take on his man or cross the ball. In this instance, he elects to cross, but he puts slightly too much on his ball and therefore Yáser Asprilla is unable to chest the ball down as he intended.

Whilst there was an element of luck to this goal, João still displays his finishing ability and calmness under pressure. The ball is crossed in from the right wing towards the 6-yard box, where it is parried away by the Reading goalkeeper. As this happens, João is making a late run into the left-hand side of the box, and the ball, fortunately, comes out just a few feet in front of him. The ball bounces and hangs in the air nicely for him, which gives him time to set his body and volley the ball with perfect technique to score his second of the night and secure the victory for Watford.

From the opening whistle, it was clear that João Pedro was going to be a problem for the Reading defense. Clearly Reading also knew this, and decided to defend him ‘robustly’ for the entire night. Despite being fouled 4 times and being heavily challenged by the Reading defenders many other times, João still had plenty of opportunities to flaunt his sky-high potential. He looked dangerous any time he found space in front of him, using his speed, dribbling and strength to win duels and beat oncoming defenders. He played with a high level of confidence, yet stopped short of becoming selfish on the ball, continuously playing the right pass when the opportunity arose instead of taking too much time on the ball and wasting possession. Playing behind physical striker Keinan Davis, he would often drop deeper into midfield or out wide to fight for and recover the ball, and then look to either play a forward pass or carry the ball forward himself. Like most weeks, he didn’t shy away from the physicality of Championship defenders, battling with the Reading defense on numerous occasions. João appeared calm and collected with the ball at his feet, playing with a sense of urgency but also not becoming erratic or making poor decisions. His coolness was highlighted early on when he brushed off the mind games of Reading goalkeeper Joe Lumley and converted the penalty he himself had won.

Overall, João had yet another game-changing performance as the star of Watford’s high-powered attack. Whilst you would expect a player held in such a high regard across Europe to perform well every week, Pedro’s performance showed glimpses of a player who is confident and selfless, two things which many young players often struggle with.

What’s next?:

João Pedro isn’t the type of talent that comes around very often. A player who is capable of playing anywhere across the attack, displays strength and speed with the ball at his feet, as well as beautiful technical ability and an impressive range of finishing to go with it. He may not be the full package just yet, but to me, João seems like the type of player who would thrive with higher quality teammates around him. This is why, whilst he did struggle in a poor Watford side in the Premier League last season, many teams were undeterred and still pursued a move for him. The two teams who were closest to securing the young Brazilian’s signature last summer were Everton and Newcastle. João reminds me a lot of Richarlison, and whilst as an Everton fan I would personally love to see João follow in Richarlison’s footsteps yet again and become the star of our attack, it is easy for me to see that Newcastle’s playing style and the quality of their squad would serve him best. He would be allowed more freedom in attack to express his on-ball ability, and his positional flexibility would make him the perfect option for Eddie Howe to use as a rotational piece. The fixture list for Premier League teams can become chaotic in the second half of the season, so he would have the opportunity to start occasionally from day one. He may have signed a contract in late September that has him signed to Watford until 2028, but it is hard to believe that João will remain at the club for much longer. It has been reported that there is not a release clause in João’s contract, but that will not stop Newcastle’s multi-billionaire owners from chasing a deal for the 21-year-old as soon as this January.

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