The spectre of Paul Pogba loomed large over the Manchester United hierarchy when reserve team star Andrea Pereira looked set to join Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer this summer. Having already let one world class talent slip, the fear was that United would make the same mistake twice.
Cynics may have suggested that it was Pogba's presence in United's collective memory as much as Pereira's impressive reserve team performances that did eventually earn him a new deal (at one point it was reported PSG were offering a sum three times as large as the £6,000 a week deal United offered). The Pogba nightmare served to bestow wonderkid status upon Pereira, despite him only playing 13 minutes of Premier League football.
But through a mixture of design and happy coincidence, Pereira has shone for United in their first two pre-season games. Indeed, after the 3-1 victory over the San José Earthquakes this week, Louis van Gaal singled him out for praise. Of a lacklustre second half, the manager commented: "I can only highlight one aspect ... and that is Andreas Pereira."
The Belgian-born Brazilian has appeared in the second halves of both friendlies United have played so far, and been one of its liveliest performers. Deployed on the left against Club América, Pereira fizzed dangerous crosses into the penalty area and deceived defenders with excellent close control. Against San José, Pereira nominally played through the middle, albeit with the freedom to drift across the attacking midfield band. He capped his lively performance with a goal, bursting forward to head a Jesse Lingard cross home.
United's tactical tweaks and van Gaal's big-name diplomacy meant that Pereira was largely ignored last season, but it's looking increasingly like he's going to feature more regularly this time around. He's a more interesting and unpredictable option than Ashley Young, who is generally only effective when he hugs the touchline, and is too one-dimensional to test the best defences.
Pereira's skillset is different, and arguably better suited to top level football. He's very comfortable with the ball at his feet, and has a keen eye for the killer pass. But most interestingly, he seems to fit with an ongoing shift in the van Gaal philosophy.
One of the reasons van Gaal is traditionally seen as a break with the Total Football philosophy of other great Ajax and Barcelona coaches is that he's never been too keen on fluid movement. His attackers are supposed to move in regimented, preset patterns, rather than be guided by their creative genius alone. He has reasoned, "if an opponent defends compactly, and we change positions, they are still standing there." Less Guardiola, more Mourinho.
But in pre-season, things have looked like they could be changing. He's experimented with playing Memphis Depay as a central playmaker rather than out on the left; he's given Pereira the total freedom to drift across the attacking zone; indeed, Juan Mata, perhaps the most unvangaalesque winger in the world, looks set to continue wandering infield off the right this season.
Van Gaal's traditional love of rigid formations and strict movements appear to be giving way to a little more freedom and mobility. And it's probably not just because he's softening with the years.
With United currently lacking a big, powerful striker in the mould of Patrick Kluivert, or Robin van Persie (two of van Gaal's favourites), slinging crosses into the box isn't going to be particularly fruitful. Wayne Rooney can no longer bully defenders as he once did; the blunt force approach isn't going to work. And with Mata strong on technique and weak on physique, a more intricate game will get the best from him too.
Or ... this is all reading way too much into a couple of pre-season friendlies and van Gaal's philosophy remains the same as it ever was. As ever, we'll have to wait and see. But it's certainly true to say that of our current attacking options, perhaps the only traditional van Gaal-type player is Depay. A more patient approach could well get the best from everyone, including Andreas Pereira, who's looking ever more like a wonderkid after all.