The 17-year-old has made a blistering start to his senior career and has already agreed a deal to swap South America for the English top-flight
“The dream started with me, I’ve always wanted to have a son that played football. I guess that was my biggest life goal.” Those were the words of the mother of Joao Pedro, Flavia, when speaking about her son’s development. Fortunately for her, that dream has been coming true, though few could have envisioned the electric start the 17-year-old made to his professional career.
After 53 minutes of first-team football across two matches, the teenage forward had already found the net on five occasions, as well as laying on an assist for a team-mate. While Brazil has produced some of the greatest goalscorers the world has ever seen, few have made such an instant impact.
Joao Pedro’s first forays into the game came as a four-year old when a friend of his mother’s took him to a football school close to his home in Ribeirao Preto, the countryside town in Sao Paulo where he was born.
At the age of 10, he caught the attention of many onlookers during a tournament in the town of Valparaiso, playing for Corinthians de Ribeirao. The man to show the most interest was Luiz Felipe, a scout for Fluminense. Seeing his enthusiasm for her son, Joao Pedro’s mother did not think twice and agreed for her son to travel to Rio de Janeiro for a trial.
Such trials usually last around a week before any decision has been taken. Joao Pedro was approved after a single session.
From there the youngster was joined by his family in Xerem where the Fluminense academy has been located. Such a move had a major financial effect on Joao Pedro’s loved ones, and while his obvious talent was nurtured on the pitch, it was left to his mother to do whatever she could to ensure he had the necessary home life to keep him on the path to stardom.
For the first few years of his time at Fluminense, Joao Pedro played as a winger. It was not until the club’s Under-17 coach Marcelo Veiga assessed his attributes and decided that he suited the role of a central striker far more that the teenager’s true potential was brought out.
“I’ve noticed during training that he had a knack for positioning and scoring goals,” Veiga said in an interview with Globoesporte. “He could shoot with both feet, showed precise heading and had that hunger for the goal. We then started working on the fundamentals, playing with his back to goal and such. And he began improving.
“What I like the most about him has been his mentality. He’s a focused kid and has been always looking to learn. Sometimes we have youth players who frown and can’t accept when they are being taught. But Joao has always shown commitment to making things work, that spark in his eyes when he knew he could do better.”
Standing at 5’10”, Joao Pedro’s goalscoring instinct was clear during his first appearance as an out-and-out striker as he found the net on four occasions. His form rarely let up, finishing the campaign with 36 goals in 38 games. So impressive were his performances he immediately bypassed Fluminense’s Under-21 side to be promoted to the first-team squad.
His pace, strength and ability to score on a frequent basis alerted Watford to his potential, and a deal was struck in November 2018 for him to join the Premier League club in January 2020, and in doing so he will walk the same path as Richarlison did two and a half years previously.
“What Joao Pedro wants, as do his family and agents, has been that he plays in the Premier League,” his mother said in interview. “And we believe in it.
“This was a topic when we talked to the Watford chairman, that Joao will, indeed, have chances and fulfil his dream. But, at the moment, we’re working hard to win titles at Fluminense.”
Joao Pedro’s senior debut for Fluminense came on May 18 as he stepped off the bench in the 70th minute of their Serie A clash with Cruzeiro. Twenty minutes later he had his first two goals in senior football.
That display earned him a start six days later in the Copa Sudamericana (South America’s equivalent to the Europa League) against Atletico Nacional. Within 33 minutes he had registered his first senior hat-trick as well as an assist for team-mate Luciano Neves in their 4-1 victory. Unsurprisingly he has started every match since, with his early performances earning him transfer links to Liverpool among others.
And, while his scoring rate has understandably dropped from the ridiculous heights of his first two appearances, he has retained his eye for the spectacular. A superb bicycle kick in the seventh minute of stoppage-time when facing an exit from the Copa do Brasil against Cruzeiro has already been touted as a potential Puskas Award nominee, and hopes are high he will end the campaign with close to 20 goals to his name.
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Away from the pitch his family has been trying to ensure his new found fame does not get to him, and for soccer professional who already has a Premier League move lined up and who idolises Cristiano Ronaldo he remains relatively grounded.
“He enjoys playing video games and playing football games online. He listens to music, flies his kite, hangs out with his friends and goes to the mall,” his mother continued. “He’s a playful kid. A little shy, but once he feels more comfortable, he laughs and jokes around.”
Joao Pedro turns 18 in September, and a few months later will be on his way to the most popular league in world football. Until then he will continue captivating Brazil with his goalscoring prowess as the nation’s newest footballing sweetheart.