Issue 02 Cover: Andreas Pereira
This article is an excerpt from the Andreas Pereira cover feature from Issue 02 of GAFFER: Heart & Soul. Available now from our online store now.
When Andreas Pereira first stepped through the door at Manchester United’s training ground, a mesh of Brazilian flair and continental discipline ingrained on the streets of Belgium and Holland, the concept of home felt like something far removed from a wet English morning.
Just 15 years old and already one of Europe’s most coveted prospects, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea had all attempted to lure the teenager from PSV Eindhoven’s academy. So when United’s Belgian scout knocked on his door unannounced and invited him to Carrington, he wasn’t struck with any dizzy amazement.
But as Pereira ambled down the corridors of United’s training ground alongside his father, two words changed everything. Sir Alex Ferguson, steaming from the opposite direction, all aura and Scottish authority, stopped the teenager in his tracks. “Bom dia,” he beamed, before adding: “I’ve always got space for one more Brazilian in my team.”
In that fleeting moment, Pereira’s indecision was broken and an attachment to United was formed based not just on the promise of a future with the club or the shock of being recognised by Europe’s best-regarded manager but a warmth that bridged the gap between past and present; the flooding memories of old and flourishing independence of life anew. “I was shocked,” Pereira laughs. “He said a few words which I didn’t expect as a young player. He made me feel like I was part of the club already. After that moment, I just wanted to sign for United as quickly as I could.”
But while his love for the club was immediate, the harmonising of Pereira’s hot South American blood and Belgian upbringing didn’t immediately translate to peace off the pitch. The northern weather was biting and cold, the food took a bit of getting used to and the days of learning to play football with his father felt far-flung. Especially, on the day he realised his dreams and made his senior first team debut in a sinking second-round League Cup tie against MK Dons. United were thrashed 4-0.
“Whenever I’m in Manchester, it feels like home.”
“It was difficult moving to Manchester,” he says. “I was doing very well in Holland, I had my family close to me but it was my dream to play for one of the best clubs in the world. It was very difficult at the start but I made the right choice. When I was young, living in Belgium, my parents spoke Portuguese, we have the Brazilian passion at home, I played with PSV in Holland, you experience all these different cultures and you get used to living with that and it’s done very well for me.
“I think it has made me a better player and a better person to get out of my comfort zone. Sometimes you can get a bit down but you have to pick yourself up every day and fight and I think that has always made me stronger.”
A prolific player in United’s youth system, after a season spent frittering on the fringes of the first-team as United writhed through the post-Ferguson era, Pereira gave into an uncompromising desire to play. After an honest conversation with Jose Mourinho, he joined Granada in 2016 and a baptism in another side to football, fighting against relegation with every sinew, playing a style of football where backs were rarely unpinned from the wall and a charge forward was little more than short-lived respite.
Yet Pereira became the soul of the struggling young side, capable of speaking English, Spanish, French, Dutch and Portuguese, and playing articulate translator to the haphazard group. All the while, his connection to Manchester remained, regularly keeping in touch with Mourinho and his assistant, Rui Faria. But it was the sharp-laced phone call that followed every match as a ritual which always returned him to the comfort of home.
“My dad speaks to me after every game,” Pereira smiles knowingly. “He will always tell me the truth. If I played badly, he’ll say ‘you were shit today’ and then tell me what I can do better. I like that. He wants what’s best for me.”
Granada suffered relegation and he returned to Manchester, living under a glare of uncertainty with just a year left on his contract. Mourinho wanted him to stay but Pereira pushed to go out on loan again, knowing the only way he could prove himself worthy of a first-team spot at United was in fact to earn it elsewhere.
This time he made the shift from Spain’s southern coast to the east and a reverse of fortunes that stretched north to the top of the table as Valencia surged to an unlikely lead in La Liga. Under Marcelino, Pereira was transformed, adding a layer of tenacity to his football, tracking back and forth relentlessly, scolded any time he stopped by the club’s inspiring taskmaster.
“It’s difficult being a midfielder in today’s modern game,” he acknowledges. “For a midfielder now you have to be strong, fast and see the play very quickly. You have to be very versatile. I think it’s important to show that character on the pitch, to show your identity and who you are. I feel like I have a good mixture now between European discipline and the flair of Brazilian players.”
In his off-kilter way of compliments, Mourinho hailed Pereira as “no longer a number” heading into the new season – the vindication of his choice to leave the club against the manager’s advice – and on the opening day of the following season, he played the full 90 minutes as United defeated Leicester. After the derelict end to Mourinho’s tenure, when Solskjaer arrived in a blaze of homegrown glory, reattaching the forgotten hallmarks of Ferguson’s reign, Pereira blossomed as the manager sought to bring through a new tide of youth. After two interludes in Spain and spells in and out of the side, he had realised those first dreams when he paced around Carrington of becoming a first-team regular.
“For me, it has been massive,” he says of the support Solskjaer has given him. “His advice is important to me and I just want to do my best on the pitch to show the faith back to him. It’s very important for the young players to be given this confidence and, then if you have the chance you have to take it with both hands.”
“We have a very positive way of playing now,” he says. “It’s a style I like a lot. We’re moving in the right direction and everyone has the same mindset so I think we can achieve great goals this season. I love this club. I love this city.”
Eight years since moving to Manchester as a fresh-faced teenager, there’s a maturity to Pereira not only gathered through time but by a sense of belonging. That while holding onto the roots which have always defined him away from the pitch, life in England has brought a new layer of happiness.
“I’ve spent more time at this club than anywhere else now,” he says earnestly. “Whenever I’m in Manchester, it feels like home.”
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