Andreas Pereira starred for Manchester United against Leicester and looks ready to play a big role this season, writes Adam Bate.
It was Luke Shaw who took the man-of-the-match award for Manchester United against Leicester last week after scoring his first senior goal. But Jose Mourinho could not let his post-match interview pass without offering a word of praise for another United youngster.
“I don’t want to leave you without saying Andreas Pereira,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. “He is a right-winger at Valencia that spent the season on the bench. From the bench at Valencia as a right-winger he comes to Old Trafford as the No 6 and played a phenomenal match.”
Pereira was excellent against Leicester. He may be used to playing in a more advanced role but the defensive side of his game was impressive. On his full Premier League debut, he made five interceptions and recovered possession of the ball 11 times – both of which were better numbers than anyone else on the pitch. Only Juan Mata covered more ground.
But it was Pereira’s passing that added a new dimension. In his interpretation of the holding role, he was willing and able to play the more ambitious ball as well as the simple one, and was the only United player to pass to each of the other 10 men in the starting line-up. It is difficult to imagine Marouane Fellaini or Scott McTominay make it all look so easy.
There is a back story to this, of course. Mourinho’s reference to Pereira’s time on the bench during his season-long loan spell at Valencia is a pointed one – an allusion to the fact that the United manager never wanted the Brazilian to leave Old Trafford in the first place.
“It was a personal decision that I don’t agree with, a decision I don’t think honestly is the best decision for him, a decision that disappoints me,” he said at the time. “He has the potential to be fighting for a position, opportunities and to be a Manchester United player.
“His decision can be considered a young player who wants to play every weekend but also a young player that is not ready to fight for something difficult and it’s difficult to play in Manchester United’s midfield. But it was his decision and I opened the door. He has a long-term contract, it is not a drama, but is a decision which disappoints me a little bit.”
6:07 Jose Mourinho praised Pereira's performance in his post-match interview
There are two sides to the story. Pereira did start 12 games in La Liga last season and was involved in 11 others. Valencia valued his contribution and he not only got to play a part in their qualification for the Champions League but also work with Marcelino, whose “incredible attention to detail” made an impression on Pereira. It was not a year wasted.
That was the player’s great fear if he had stayed. There was the 2015/16 season he had spent in the reserves after being led to believe the breakthrough was imminent under Louis van Gaal. “I trusted the manager and it didn’t happen as I wanted it to,” Pereira later explained. That was what encouraged him to go on loan to Granada the following year.
Although the club lost their battle to stay in the top flight, it was there he gained the “experience of playing under pressure” and earned his chance at Valencia. Now 22, he is ready for the next step and has spoken openly about the desire for “clarity” about his future. Will Mourinho be willing to give the youngster a regular role in the team?
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It would not be an act of charity. Despite Mourinho’s negative comments about the club’s summer tour, it did give him the chance to see Pereira produce an accomplished display against AC Milan and it was enough to persuade him to play him against Leicester. Nemanja Matic will return soon but Pereira has earned his manager’s trust.
It would not shock many if Pereira continues to reward him. Sir Alex Ferguson was personally involved in the deal to bring the player to Old Trafford at the age of 15 and Ander Herrera once said Pereira would become a “very important player for many years” to come. This is someone who scored for Brazil in the final of the U20 World Cup in 2015.
2:58 Highlights of Manchester United's 2-1 win over Leicester City
Paul McGuinness, the former United academy coach, had tipped him for the top too. “He is one of these players who could be special in the end,” McGuiness told Sky Sports. “He has the belief and the ego to be a top player – and, importantly, the talent to go with it. He’s got the running power too. But he must learn how to fit into the team and be a team player.
“It’s just a case of putting it together and knowing how to play your role in the team. Sometimes players with real talent want to show how good they are all the time but when you’re a playmaker, you have to make everyone else play well. I’m sure he’ll learn that and I’m sure there could be a top player emerging when he’s 25 or 26.”
Although Pereira has shown signs of impatience in his desire for first-team football, it would seem that he is ahead of schedule. The twists and turns are still there but so is the maturity in his decision-making. He is now helping the team to play well too. Mourinho did not get what he wanted this summer. But perhaps he found the player that he needed, after all.
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