Looking back over the Louis van Gaal era at United, it’s difficult to know which part of the Dutchman’s tenure left fans the most confused. Was it the insistence of treating possession as the most important facet of any game, even over goals, entertainment or actually winning? Was the most confusing aspect, the way van Gaal forced players to play out of position when there were much better suited options available or could it be the manager’s inability to see that a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of MK Dons, or losing at home to the likes of Swansea, Southampton or Norwich City wasn’t ‘progress’ but actually the nadir of the club’s recent history?
Under van Gaal bemusement replaced belief as the order of the day, to the point where the word ‘philosophy’ seemed to be a mistaken translation for the term ‘punishment’ which was what the manager inflicted on Reds everywhere on a near-weekly basis. It was not a happy time during his two-year tenure but it at the very least van Gaal deserves credit for his faith in youth. Or does he? Like all things Louis-shaped, even that could be confusing, especially his treatment of Andreas Pereira who was treated like a saviour and then a pariah within the space of a few weeks.
It all started so well for Pereira during his second season under van Gaal, as he bagged a goal in the League Cup in front of the Old Trafford faithful. Not just a goal, but a free kick, a successful free kick by a United player. Unicorn sh*t is more common than that. There was a time when the awarding of a free-kick for United within shooting range used to be greeted with the same expectation of a penalty such was the ability of the likes of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. Now though the referee may as well award a goal kick and save everyone the bother of watching Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Ashley Young debating which stand one of them is going to kick it in. Ten months ago all that seemed to change, when, against Ipswich, Pereira buried the ball past Bartosz Bialkowski. United had an exciting young attacker, with bags of talent, who could hit a dead ball, all thanks to van Gaal’s faith in youth. Hurrah. Except, as was van Gaal’s modus operandi, just when it seemed the fans had something to get excited about, he took it away as the young Belgian-born Brazilian was to play less than ten games for the whole campaign, managing a grand total of just 90 minutes in the entire league calendar.
Why van Gaal was so reluctant to trust a player who seemed the embodiment of everything the team was crying out for as they stumbled towards a fifth-placed finish is anyone’s guess, Pereira wasn’t even allowed to go out on loan, complaining that the manager denied him a January move. That would seem logical if van Gaal planned on using the young winger, but he didn’t, yet again proving logic and van Gaal go together like Game of Thrones and fully clothed women.
Now though, the disappointing, confusing, goal bereft, dour, van Gaal era is over and the wonderful, exciting, goal strewn, Jose Mourinho era is underway and with it comes a chance for Pereira to shine. Probably. The youngster did his chances of getting some first team opportunities under the new boss no harm with a well taken goal against Wigan this weekend and now may be the perfect time for both player and manager to see the 20 year-old become more than a fringe member of United’s squad. As Mourinho waved his 49 players list around, like a modern-day Neville Chamberlain, there was a collective raising of the eyebrows from many of the assembled press. The Special One’s claim that he’d given 49 academy players their chance in the first team during his career, turned out to be load of tosh as once examined it proved to contain many names who played a solitary game for the two-time Champions League winner. Mourinho may already regret sending his list to the media, as it’s simply poured petrol on the fire when it comes to his reputation of preferring big money signings to promising youngsters, but in Pereira he may just have a player who thoroughly deserves his chance, regardless of which route he took to the Old Trafford dressing room.
Followers of United’s academy will tell you Pereira has been one of its brightest stars since he joined the Reds on his 16th birthday, shining at all levels of the club’s youth teams, none more so than the under 21s where he picked up the player of the year award for the 2014/15 season. That should have been the catalyst for Pereira to break into the first team the following season, but instead it proved to be one of frustration for the youngster who can operate on either wing or just off the striker, or if needs be, even in a central midfield role. So pretty much anywhere other than defence, or an out an out striker, in fact such is the way with attacking full backs nowadays who’d bet against him filling in there.
If Mourinho is looking for a player to prove the doubters wrong when it comes to his alleged lack of faith in youth then Pereira fits the bill, not just for ticking boxes but actually winning matches. Following the Wigan game Mourinho noted:
“Andreas has lots of talent – he has incredible vision and an incredible technique.”
Pereira has been praised before by a manager following a goal for the first team so he should realize it doesn’t mean he’s suddenly destined for a run in the starting eleven- especially after a friendly- but as United fans begin to believe in Jose, even at this early stage, many will be hoping one example of the new manager’s hindsight is giving the youngster more than just a bit part in the coming season.