Manchester United had won their first eight games under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when struggling Burnley came to Old Trafford on January 29. Andreas Pereira, enjoying his first league start under the new manager, was desperate to show his quality. It didn't go to plan.
Six minutes after half-time he gave the ball away in the middle of the pitch. Burnley took advantage, Jack Cork and Ashley Barnes combining for the Clarets to take the lead. A second goal followed before United scrambled two very late goals to draw 2-2.
“I didn’t see the player,” explains Pereira. “I didn’t think about it too much during the game but then I got subbed after and I got down about it. I was angry; I didn’t speak with anybody for a week. I started to look at myself, started to pick myself up, then I started to feel better and I got over it. I know that I had to overcome my mistake.”
Footballers make mistakes in every game, but Pereira wanted to take his chance. Fortunately, he has a manager who believes in him.
“Ole told me to calm down, to trust myself,” he explains. “It was a difficult time for me, but after that I was ok.”
The Norwegian rates Pereira – all the coaches do.
“We believe in the boy, we’ve given him a new (four-year) contract,” he says. “He wants to learn, he listens and tries to incorporate what we tell him into his game. He played against PSG away, scored (United’s goal of the season) against Southampton, he played against Liverpool. He is one we expect more from this season. If you give him game time, he’ll grow.”
Paul McGuinness, his youth coach at United, is also full of praise. “Andreas can score, he can shoot with both feet, he can take free-kicks and corners, create goals and be a crowd pleaser,” he says. “He’s a playmaker, an inside forward – although he can play up front. He can beat people. He could be a star.”
Pereira, who has been on loan at Granada and Valencia in Spain, wants to play regularly – more than the nine starts and 12 substitute appearances he got last season, certainly. Mourinho didn’t want him to go to Valencia in 2017 but stayed in touch with the Belgium-born Brazilian and encouraged him. As did his close friend Paul Pogba, whom he doesn’t want to leave. Pereira has appreciated the support from people at the club.
“Last season I had some difficulties to overcome mentally,” he explains. “I was doing well, then I had a setback where I was out of the team. Then Ole gave me a chance, he spoke to me and explained that I was in his plans.”
A month after the Burnley game he scored that stunning goal against Southampton; a curling, right-foot strike from 25 yards, and began to make progress.
“I learned a lot, I’m ready to step up, I feel confident and the manager feels confident in me,” says the 23-year-old. “Mentally and physically, I feel stronger each year.”
We’ve been here before with Pereira, however. He excelled in pre-season last term, scored a wonder goal against Liverpool in Michigan and was rewarded with a start against Leicester in the first league game of 2018/19. He was impressive, but then came the match against Brighton away when every United player was below par.
“Brighton was difficult,” he admits. “I got subbed and felt like I did something wrong. The manager told me that I would be fine, but then I didn’t play any more. I couldn’t show the better side of myself if I didn’t play. For a long time my last game had been that one against Brighton. I put too much pressure on myself to do better.”
Pereira is 23. He made his full Brazil debut last September but there’s a sense that it’s this season or never at Manchester United, and fans need to be convinced that he’s the real deal. Yes, the coaches rate him highly, but United supporters need to see more from him. He knows this.
“It’s my time to step up. I’m ready,” he asserts. “As a No.8 or a No.10. I can play on the right wing like Becks used to play, cut inside and get the early cross in. I have a lot to show.”
Pereira isn’t the only one who needs to step up after United’s atrocious end to the season.
“We felt like we were fading away, the training was not as sharp as it had been,” he explains. “There was a lack of concentration. We had a very bad feeling after the last game last season (a home defeat to relegated Cardiff City). This season, when we started pre-season, we spoke with the manager. The training sessions are sharper; we have the new young players too. We know what we did wrong and we know what we have to do to improve.”
Every United player will tell you that they’re fitter than this time last year. They’ve won all three tour matches so far, beating Perth Glory, Leeds United and Inter Milan without conceding a goal.
Pereira has had another good pre-season. They hope to continue that progress against Tottenham Hotspur in Shanghai on Thursday, but it will be in competitive games where they’re properly judged. The same can be said for Pereira in the make-or-break season which awaits.
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