Jose Mourinho was satisfied with Manchester United’s preseason, in which his team won five of their seven games — another, vs. Real Madrid, ended in a draw, but United won on penalties — in the U.S., Norway and Ireland. Serious injuries were avoided, crowds were huge and new signings settled in. Several players performed very well and impressed their manager; among the best was Andreas Pereira.
“I’ve had a good preseason; I’ve showed that I’ve learned during my time away on loan and I also have more to show,” Pereira told ESPN FC after Wednesday’s 2-1 win in Dublin against Sampdoria. “The Real Madrid game was the one which I enjoyed most. But there’s a good atmosphere in the group and I’m already friends with [Romelu] Lukaku. We both grew up in Belgium. He’s a funny guy, we get on well.”
Lukaku was bought to start games, whereas Brazilian Under-23 international Pereira, who was born in Belgium, is waiting for a chance to impress.
“I just want to make sure that I can show everyone at the training ground and inside the stadium what I can do,” he explained. “I want to continue my development and find a way into the team.
Pereira spent 2016-17 on loan in Spain and, despite being at a club that was ultimately relegated, the move served him well and Mourinho kept in regular touch. Pereira was the Andalusian club’s best performer in a narrow defeat at Barcelona, delighting the tiny away following and shocking Luis Enrique and the rest of the Barca bench when he performed a Johan Cruyff-like turn to get past Denis Suarez.
Starting 34 league games, no player under the age 23 created more chances — 50 — or had more assists — three. That would be an achievement had he played for a top side, let alone one that was always in the relegation zone.
“I got experience,” Pereira said. “Experience at a club which was very different to United, where things didn’t go well and there was a different type of pressure, where the fans and media were not happy with the league position. I experienced a new culture, language and country. Granada is a beautiful city and I visited the Alhambra Palace. The food was good, I liked the paella and I stayed in touch with my teammates at United.”
A religious man, Pereira speaks Portuguese, French, Dutch, English and Spanish and has made 13 first-team appearances for United. However, he knew the time was right to move away — temporarily — from Old Trafford.
“I went there to get more minutes on the pitch and I did that,” he said. “I wanted and needed that rhythm of playing every week at a high level, then it was my intention to go back stronger. I did that. I started regularly, I played a more technical, tactical and skill focussed style of football, one which was less physical than the Premier League. I played against some of the greatest teams in the world. Which player would not improve from that?”
The 21-year-old, who has a year left on his United contract, is close to Paul Pogba and to another Pereira, young Portuguese goalkeeper Joel.
“I’ve come back and I feel calm, I feel stronger mentally and physically,” said Pereira. “I can play as a midfielder, as a winger, as a holding midfielder. I’ll play wherever the manager plays me but my best position is as a (central) No. 6, eight or 10.”
Ander Herrera says exactly the same when asked about his favourite role, which shows competition is tough. Meanwhile, Pogba wears 6, Juan Mata has 8 and, though, 10 has yet to be assigned following Wayne Rooney’s departure, United’s squad is stocked with those who like to play off a lead striker.
“The manager just tells me to play my football and continue doing what I’m doing,” Pereira said. “I will do whatever he tells me to do.”
Though United have been contacted by several clubs regarding their No. 44, Mourinho wants Pereira to stay and be part of a necessarily deep squad.
“The plan is to have a good squad, not a good team,” said United’s manager. “A good squad with different options as we have important players injured for a long time. They’re going to be back just by the end of the year so our squad is not so big and we need options and different players. We need everybody. It’s going to be fun to choose the team for every match.”
It will be less fun for those not selected, but Pereria is looking good. He’s technically sound, fast, energetic and bursts forward. He knows it will be tough for him to get into the first team, but he wants to do everything he can to achieve that goal.
“I see myself staying; I want to play football and play minutes for United,” he said on Wednesday, though it is true that he said something similar last year before being loaned out after he didn’t make the squad for United’s first three games of the season.
Mourinho’s players have Thursday and Friday off in Manchester — their first break in a month — before facing Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup on Tuesday in Macedonia. Pereira is one of a few in the squad with experience of playing them in a competitive match, even if Granada did lose both games lastb season by a combined 9-0.
“We’ve already been working on the Super Cup game and we’ll be well prepared,” said Pereira. It’s true that United are better than Granada and, against the Spanish, European and world champions, they’ll need to be.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.