Guest Author: Doron
Follow Doron on Twitter
There was one surprising inclusion in the Manchester United first team squad photo earlier this week. William Keane and Reece James who went on the summer tour weren’t included – both are now someway down the pecking order for their positions. Injured players such as Jones, Carrick, Lingard and Fellaini all took part along with young striker, James Wilson, who’s now very much with the first team. He was joined from the U21 squad, maybe somewhat surprisingly, by Andreas Pereira.
There had already been two signs that Pereira may be pushed towards the first team this seaosn. He played the second half of the League Cup game away to MK Dons, and then made the bench for the league game at home to QPR. That he’s reached this point right now is a surprise, but why?
As with many young attacking players signed from abroad, his signing received a lot of attention. United had pulled out all the stops to get him – including an opportunity to meet with Alex Ferguson (at United, it’s not common place for the manager to deal with youth signings). It obviously worked as Pereira chose United over a host of other elite clubs.
Born in 1996 (just), he’s of an age whereby some of his earliest footballing apperances for club and country have been recorded. As such he joined with a plethora of YouTube footage available and word quickly spread on social media, armed with video proof, that United were signing one hell of a talent.
Video footage has its uses – just look at Wyscout and how important that platform has become. But, needless to say, that YouTube compilations created by fans is a dangerous method of judging a player. Just look at Gyliano van Velzen, appeared to be a world-beater in clips but struggled to make an impression at United.
Although he joined as a number 10 (and something of a set piece expert) he’s been used in a variety of roles – out wide, deeper as a central midfielder and on occasion as a striker. Despite that, the expectation has always been that he’d create, score and entertain. United have always encouraged their more technically strong and gifted players to express themselves on the pitch rather than attempt to reign them in.
It can of course take time to settle into new surroundings and a new team. Adnan Januzaj and Mats Daehli both showed early on that it’s possible to acclimitise quickly but if it takes a little bit longer that’s not an issue. Due to international clearance it wasn’t until the 2012/13 season, as a first year scholar, that he was able to play regularly for the U18s and get a taste of U21 action.
His opening season was ok, if unspectacular. United undperformed in a few areas, notably the FA Youth Cup and a talented group of players probably should have done better. Pereira scored a goal every four games which is a decent return but that should have probably been more given the side’s attacking prowess – Januzaj, Daehli and Wilson all out-performed him but also meant that goalscoring opportunities were seldom far away.
The summer of 2013 provided probably the best spell of football Pereira has had in a United shirt. Somewhat surprisingly at first he was included in the Milk Cup squad. Traditionally it’s a young squad comprised of first year scholars and U16 players. Pereira, a second year in the Academy and by now a full professional with the club was included as captain. It turned out to be a smart move – he was easily the tournament’s best player which was a big boost to him, but as captain, there was an added sense of responsibility and he guided the young players through the tournament.
He took that form and confidence into the new season and scored four goals in 6 games (including some influential Youth Cup performances) before moving up to the U21 side. This was maybe an early indicator that, like Januzaj, he might be fast-tracked into the first team a year later. The difference between the two would be what happened over the duration of the 2013/14 season. Januzaj, when in the U21 side clearly stood out. His performances were both eye-catching and mature, particularly given that he’d often have to play out of position, as a striker. By contrast, Pereira was perhaps pushed up too soon.
In his defence, he came into the U21 side at a difficult time. There was a transition as older players were allowed to leave either permanently or on loan and the team often played without a forward (depending on Wilson’s progress/fitness). And, without him and his stunning goal at Anfield, United wouldn’t have even made it to the league final.
He wasn’t awful either, he just unintentionally hid. Games would pass by and you wouldn’t be quite sure what exactly he’d contributed. He’d keep the ball nicely but seldom got into positions to hurt the opposition. A player with his natural ability should be wanting the ball all the time, influencing the games and upping the tempo but that wasn’t the case, and it was other players who were standing out, notably Rothwell and Pearson.
He started the new season better, more confident and that appeared to go noticed. His inclusion in the squad to face MK Dons was a slight surprise, particularly given some other players who’ve regularly impressed, missed out. There’s no denying that Pereira’s second half performance was one of the better things that happened on a bad night. He seemed eager to have a positive impact and kickstart some attacking football.
That cameo was followed up by a place on the bench for the QPR home game. Another slightly surprising move that a bench already full of attacking options was added to with his inclusion rather than a slightly more defensive minded player. But still, better him than say Anderson, whose future is clearly not at United beyond next summer.
His sudden promotion towards the first team is unexpected. Few fans who’ve seen him play over the last year would have predicted he’d be the U21 midfielder to be moved closest to the first team. United have never been a club to promote a player too soon but as with the Paul Pogba departure, times are changing. Already, other clubs have started to sniff around Pereira and with his contract up soon, United may feel the need to prove they want to keep him so that he decides against going elsewhere.
It may also be the case that he simply performs better when surrounded by better players. The pace of the first team and the movement/intelligence of the players could suit his game in terms of both creating more space for him to work in and providing more targets to pick out.
With United’s commitment to youth being (stupidly) questioned, the inclusion of any of our young players won’t be criticised by me but I hope that United have promoted him for the right reasons – the club’s youth policy cannot begin to be determined by outside forces. From a fan’s point of view, there appear more deserving players of first time inclusion (Ben Pearson hasn’t even got a squad number for goodness sake!) but at the same time if he gets a chance and takes it, who’s to argue?