Martin Braithwaite can be a surprise package for Barcelona when La Liga resumes after the coronavirus suspension, according to Michael Pedersen, who was the mentor to the Denmark international during his formative days at Esbjerg.
Pedersen helped transform Braithwaite from an unheralded youngster into a player who has featured at the highest level in both France and Spain.
Nevertheless, there was surprise when the 28-year-old completed an €18 million (£16m/$20m) February move to Barca off the back of the Catalans’ injury crisis.
Pedersen, who is currently in charge of a highly successful Denmark Under-17 team, which have won 22 of their last 23 matches, including fixtures against England, Portugal and two against France, believes the deal is a very logical one, though, and he feels the 39-time capped attacker can prove his detractors wrong.
“We haven’t seen Martin play a lot for Barca because of the corona break, but he is much more a Barca type of player than many may believe,” he told Goal of the attacker, who has turned out three times in the Blaugrana, having a hand in two goals on debut off the bench in a 5-0 win over Eibar.
“He has the tactical ability to fit into different tactical set-ups depending on the clubs he has represented in his career so far, and I know that he can play with a vision and anticipation in his game that is quite extraordinary.
“He is very good in that phase of the game, where he can see options that a lot of other players don’t see, where he can create space for other players, which is quite rare, since most players focus on creating space for themselves.
“His timing in his runs is amazing, and he anticipates the dangerous areas to attack into before they appear. Good players run into the danger areas as soon as they see them, but the best players spot the areas, then they wait with their run until the perfect moment with the maximum effect – that is football intelligence, and Martin has that ability. This is why he is a Barcelona player, in my opinion.
“And this is why I am looking forward to watching him play for Barcelona when La Liga restarts because with such great team-mates, he will have a great possibility to show his skills at the very highest level.”
The player’s intelligent nature is something he has shown throughout his career and helped Pedersen, who was a member of the Osasuna squad that first qualified for the UEFA Cup back in 1985, earmark him for a big future.
“Martin was very ambitious as a teenager and I could see huge potential in him,” he continued. “He wanted to hear about my own experiences not only as a coach but also as a player – and especially my time in Spain.
“We talked and worked a lot together in Esbjerg. I’m happy with what he has become and happy that I could help him to focus on taking the right decisions and develop in the right way to play in the big leagues.”
Braithwaite himself has admitted what a positive influence Pedersen was on his game.
“He took me to another level,” the forward told Goal. “He knows me better than almost anyone in football. He was a mentor for me in my younger years and he helped me a lot in my development from a young talent to the player I am today. He took me to another level.
“He educated me for top-level football and did that with a level of coaching skills and football knowledge that I’ve not seen too many times since then. I’m definitely the player I am today because of him.
“He played as a striker himself in Spain and I wanted to follow in his footsteps so much. My ambition was to go to Spain and play in La Liga, so I had a natural respect for him and I knew that I could learn a lot from him in my development.
“Michael taught me to play football with my brain, not only my feet. He showed me how to fall in love with football in a new way. I began studying the mental side and the tactical side of football.
“For example, I began watching football differently than I did previously.
“When I was a teenager watching Barcelona play on TV back home in Denmark, because of Michael’s inspiration, I was trying to read and analyse the game. Now I was not only enjoying the technical side of football, but also the tactical, for example how to run and how to time your runs and actions. And then I would integrate that into my own game on the pitch, and that helped me to develop a lot as a player.
“I was not only training on the pitch with the ball at my feet or in the gym, I was constantly training my mental strength and my football intelligence because he inspired me to do so.”
Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has denied Pedersen, who finds himself out of contract in the summer, the chance to put his promising Danish youngsters in the spotlight, with the Under-17 European Championship cancelled as a result of the virus.
There were high hopes for the young group, many of whom display the same strong mindset that has allowed Braithwaite to reach the top.
“My Denmark U17s have a lot of the same mentality,” he confirmed. “I have worked with them very much in the same way that I worked with Martin.
“I’ve seen many talents hit a wall when they have faced a tough time in football, and believe me, all players will face tough times. So I prepare them for that with my coaching methods, and this group of players have reacted extraordinarily well to my philosophy, developing a unique winning mentality, and that’s why this team have won 22 out of 23 games – against some of the best countries in international youth football.
“I have been asked whether this is the best Danish youth national team ever, and I can only say, that we have delivered some of the best results ever, if not the very best.
“I also qualified for the Euros with my first U17 team due to a great collective understanding of teamwork, but this team have been unique.
“Together we have created a level of winning mentality, teamwork and team spirit that has allowed the stars of the team to shine and has made a very deep squad hit an extremely high international level.
“Some of the players are already playing abroad at clubs well known for talent development – Ajax, Salzburg and Leipzig – and they chose not to go to even bigger clubs because they felt these sides provided the best environment to improve.
“Many players have said ‘No thank you,’ to big international clubs because they believe they could still develop in Denmark, but I am sure – and I know them well – that many of them have the potential to go far in international football and will move abroad in the next few years.
“It is such a shame that this extraordinary team lost their chance of a great, maybe historic result at the U17 Euros this year because of the coronavirus.”
Pedersen, who admits that he has drawn inspiration from both Barcelona and Liverpool, feels a personal loss, too.
“It was an opportunity to show the result of my coaching work to the international football world,” he said. “I must admit that I had hoped to be able to do that since I am now quitting the Danish FA and this summer will be able to move on to new challenges and ambitions in football.
“I am proud of not only the results, but also the way we have won all these games. We have played to our own strengths, almost always having most possession.
“We are good with the ball even against the greatest football nations, but we can also change our style and still win. When, for example, England were trying to overpower us playing very quick, physical and aggressive football.
“As a coach you seek inspiration from the best, and for this team I have taken inspiration from both Barca’s passing and possession game and from Liverpool, who have developed in such an impressive style under Jurgen Klopp and are now able to play with a high tempo, high pressing and direct, but also with a lower press, being more possessive and creating wins out of that.
“Liverpool have mastered multiple ways to win and that shows great coaching work by Klopp.”