Exclusive: Andreas Pereira on Mourinho, Sanchez, Fred and establishing himself at Manchester United
Manchester United’s pre-season tour of the United States has not been without issues since many of the first team players are absent, but the form of midfielder Andreas Pereira has been a significant bright spot for Jose Mourinho's side.
The Belgium-born Brazilian has been one of United’s best players in their four games and his goal from a free-kick was the highlight in Saturday’s 4-1 defeat to Liverpool in Michigan in front of 101,000.
"The tour has been great for me and I’m very happy,” the 22 year old tells The National. "I’m thankful that Mr Mourinho gave me these opportunities to show what I can do by letting me play so much in these games. I just want to continue showing him and the staff that I can play here at United.
"I’m also happy with the team here and we’re getting better every game. OK, we lost against Liverpool, but pre-season is about getting our fitness, getting to know new players and making sure we’re as well prepared as possible for when the season starts."
Alexis Sanchez, another United player who has done well as United’s young squad drew their first three matches, was about to take a 31st minute free-kick in Michigan when Pereira intervened.
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"I’ve not had a lot of time to practise free-kicks because I have needed to recover after games, but I felt confident when we were awarded the free-kick and asked Alexis (if I could take it),” explains Pereira. "He kindly gave me the ball and it went exactly where I wanted it to.”
Pereira looks to his compatriots as inspiration when it comes to taking free-kicks.
"Ronaldinho and Juninho Pernambucano for Lyon were two players I watched taking free-kicks as I grew up. Brazil has so many good free-kick takers."
Pereira has been here before. He was impressive last pre-season for United before deciding to go on loan to Valencia in Spain after he had not featured in any of the match day squads for the opening three Premier League games.
Though his manager would have preferred him to stay, it was not a decision he regretted.
"United now have a better player because I went to Valencia," he says of his choice to play first team football in front of 80,000 at Camp Nou or the Bernabeu rather than in United’s reserves in front of 1,000 at Leigh.
"I played more minutes than I would have played at United," he adds. "At Valencia I was playing a high level every week and I improved a lot. I was under pressure in a good way, I played in a team which played very good football with an explosive counter attack."
Pereira is also keen to pay tribute to the impact and role that Valencia manager Marcelino had on his thought process towards football.
"The manager paid incredible attention to detail and if something went wrong, he’d tell you," Pereira said. "I lost the ball in one game and was thinking ‘Damn! I’ve lost the ball’.
"The manager didn’t want me to think anything, he wanted me to press immediately, to focus without hesitation and get the ball back. I was playing really well against good teams in Spain, but I was also unfortunate to get badly injured for the first time in my career just as I was playing my best."
Valencia enjoyed their best season in years and qualified for the Uefa Champions League in the coming season and Pereira is of no doubt going there was a good decision.
"I’m more mature for my experience of being there," he said. "I read the game faster now. I prepare for the games better, I know my body better and know what I can do. I don’t make the mistakes I was making before. I’m getting better all the time."
"Jose Mourinho was always in touch and sending me messages. It was nice that he kept in touch with me and showed that he had faith in me. I want to repay that faith. I think I can make the step now to play every week at Manchester United."
Pereira is versatile and covers a lot of ground. He can play as the second midfielder as either a No 8 or a No 10.
He can play as an attacking midfielder on the left or right wing, but Mourinho has been using him as a No 6 on the tour.
"My best position now is as a number six," he smiles. "Mr Mourinho put me there and he can see things that others can’t see. I’m happy as a six and will continue trying my best there."
Pereira joined United’s youth ranks from PSV Eindhoven, where he had been captain of every age group in his seven years at the Dutch club.
He arrived at Carrington to find manager Sir Alex Ferguson saying hello to him in Portuguese and stating that he always had space for a Brazilian in his team. Pereira was won over.
"Andreas came as a big talent who could do a bit of everything," explains former United youth coach Paul McGuinness. "He can score, he can shoot with both feet, he can take free-kicks and corners, create goals and be a crowd pleaser.
"He’s a playmaker, an inside forward – although he can play up front. He can beat people. He’s a player who could be a star."
The man who made his United debut at 17 in an inglorious 4-0 League Cup defeat at Milton Keynes Dons in 2014, has shown those star qualities on the tour and his ability to combine well with Sanchez have been impressive.
Pereira is full of praise for Sanchez. "Alexis is a special player who can change the game when he wants. We’re lucky that we have him here because he’s very, very talented.
"I think this season will be a good one for him and despite the result against Liverpool, the spirit is good among the players."
Pereira is expected to play in United’s final game in the United States against European champions Real Madrid on Tuesday in Miami.
A year ago, he was part of the United squad which met Madrid in the European Super Cup final in Skopje.
"They were very good,” says Pereira of Madrid. "The players spoke after the game and said: ‘If we do everything right then we can get to that level’. I think with the players now at Old Trafford United can do that.
"In Mourinho United have a winner. He has to win. He wants that you give everything for him and the team. He never gives up, he always wants more and more. We usually speak in English in front of the group, but sometimes if we are alone we talk in Portuguese."
Pereira joined United in 2012 and his family, who visited him in Los Angeles on the US tour, live in the city.
"We speak in Portuguese at home," he says. "My family is Brazilian and I feel Brazilian, even though I have never lived there. I was born and raised in Belgium so I also feel Belgian.
"I feel the blood of a Brazilian, but I understand both ways. It’s not so unusual for people to move around the world now."
The family moved to Europe because Pereira’s footballer father Marcos had a contract in the Belgian first division.
"He was a very good player, someone I looked up to, but he was unlucky with knee injuries," he said. "He was a winger and I wanted to be the same as him.
"I watched him every week. He was fast and strong, different from me because I’m not as fast as him but I am more technical.
"Manchester feels like home. I have friends in Manchester, some of them go to the away games with United and they were sad when I left to go on loan. My family are there, my mum, dad and sister. My sister studies in Exeter, but home is in Manchester and I know the club and everyone there."
Pereira has another role at the moment, helping another Brazilian, United’s main summer signing Fred, settle at his new club following his move from Shakhtar Donetsk in the summer.
"I’m with him all the time helping him find his way around,” he explains. “He’s easy to get on with, I like him."
Pereira will return to Manchester on Wednesday to see his family ahead of United’s final pre-season game against Bayern Munich in Bavaria next Sunday.
After that game, he hopes he will not miss out on the first three Premier League games this season.