All great Manchester United sides have been built on the bedrock of highly-tipped youth players. The Busby Babes and the Class of 92 are examples of these. In the current era, United are once again building their own core of youth players, headed by Luke Shaw, Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial, all big money recruits. One such rising star is unheralded though, and has slipped quietly through amidst the high turnover in the last few years. That star is Andreas Pereira, and he leads the highly successful youth team looking to make a mark on the hallowed Old Trafford pitch.
Who is Andreas Pereira?
Andreas Hugo Hoelgebaum Pereira was born in Duffel, Belgium and is the son of former Brazilian professional footballer Marcos Pereira who moved to Belgium during his career. He started off at Lommel United before moving to one of the best youth development squads in Europe, PSV Eindhoven, across the border where his current teammate Memphis Depay spent his formative years. After impressing at the Manchester United Premier Cup in 2011, he was enticed into joining the club on the persuasion of Sir Alex Ferguson, despite overtures from Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Due to complications, he was only able to make his U-18 debut against Sheffield Wednesday in late April 2012, and signed as an academy scholar in July 2012.
Games were few and far between, but he impressed whenever he played and developed at a quick pace, receiving his first professional contract in January 2013 after his 17th birthday. He drew recognition within the club for his consistent performances in the UEFA Youth League, FA Youth Cup and the U-21 Premier League.
His first-team career kicked off with the arrival of Louis van Gaal in the 2014-15 season, a strict and disciplined taskmaster with the reputation of giving chances to youth. Andreas made his senior debut as a substitute in the humiliating defeat to MK Dons in the League Cup 0-4, but while that game ended many fringe players’ roles in the team, it just proved how far Andreas had come in just two years at the club. He did make his Premier League debut in far happier circumstances, as a 77th minute substitute against Tottenham in a 3-0 triumph.
There were fears at United that Andreas would follow the path of Paul Pogba and move to a big team in Europe over concerns of playing time. United saw him as a future star with huge potential and were desperate to hold on to him. When he did sign a new contract till June 2018, it brought relief to nervous fans and officials at the club. Capping off a strong season, he won the Denzil Haroun U-21 Player of the Season Award as he helped the team to the U-21 title.
Internationally, Andreas represented Belgium at U-17 and U-18 level. However he had to make a choice between Belgium, his country of birth and Brazil, his country of origin and eventually chose the latter, featuring in Brazil’s run to the final of the U-20 World Cup in 2015, netting twice including an equaliser in the final.
Andreas made a breakthrough on the USA pre-season tour in 2015, building on the trust shown by van Gaal, and was one of the stars on the tour, capped off by a first goal against San Jose Earthquakes in a 3-1 win. The faith was evident in van Gaal’s decision to not loan out Pereira for the season, an indictment of how far he’s come. In his first competitive start against Ipswich Town in the League Cup, he scored a stunning free-kick after asking Juan Mata for it to make it 2-0 in an eventual 3-0 win.
Andreas has come far in a short span and will go further. So what exactly does Andreas possess in his locker?
Style, Strength and Weaknesses
As modern midfielders go, Pereira fits the bill. Versatile, his preferred position is at the number 10 role where he can control games but he is also comfortable plying his trade in central midfield and on the wings, where he is likely to play for the initial years of his United career considering the riches United have in central midfield and in the attacking third.
While not the tallest around the circuit (5ft 10in), he makes up for it with his skill and trickery on the ball. He’ll embark on mazy runs and is a nightmare for defenders. He can conjure moments of genius out of thin air while also proving adept at close control and dribbling, which he has a natural flair for. He is instinctive and always looks to take on his marker, in order to get into favourable attacking positions. His attributes perfectly suit his style of play, as he is quick, whippy, lean and agile, while he was pace which he varies accordingly.
His dead-ball skills have the potential to put him among the best free-kick specialists the club has seen, and there is a lot to live up to, with Ronaldo, Beckham and Irwin among the names. His debut goal against Ipswich remains testament to that. He crosses well while he regularly attempts long-rangers, with unfortunately poor accuracy.
Just as many of his age, he tries hard to impress and has the penchant for the spectacular, which doesn’t always come off. His selfishness is one major downside to the game. He keeps the ball on him for too long rather than passing, and if he does pass it is usually the long unnecessary ball which kills off the team move. This is the reason for his lack of link-up play with his teammates. The easy loss of possession at times is also a slight worry. Physically, he isn’t the strongest which makes it difficult for him to brush off opposition defenders in key areas.
Gifted as Pereira is with his technical skills, he still had a lot of scope for development in his passing, finishing, and his physical and mental aspects. When he does develop on these attributes, he will surely be a world-beater and terrorise defenders down the flanks. All he needs is some patience and time.
What does the future hold for him?
The sky is the limit for Andreas. While Paul Pogba was the star that got away, Pereira has immense potential and can realise it at United with the help of Ryan Giggs, Louis van Gaal and the vastly experienced leaders at the club such as captain Rooney and Schweinsteiger.
Pereira symbolises the post-Ferguson era despite being brought in during the end of Fergie’s tenure. Just as Ronaldo a decade ago, Andreas is the uncut, uneven diamond which when polished will sparkle. At United, he has a conducive environment required for him to flourish and with continued hard work off field and the drive and focus to succeed, Pereira will continue to grow.
With high-potential players such as Memphis, Shaw and Martial, along with Januzaj, the break-through star of 2014 akin to Andreas, the future of the club looks secure. With continued progress he will have a major role to play. United fans can only imagine what a future United frontline could look like- Memphis, Pereira and Januzaj behind the new wonderkid Martial has the potential to be a world-beating combination if they all reach the level they are tipped to. Things are looking great for Andreas and with a pinch of luck, he will continue to do so.
Till then, we can all marvel at the things this pint-sized Brazilian will do on the pitch.
Written by Rahul Warrier
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