One of the running themes among Manchester United fans these days, and one that is the subject of some heated debate, is José Mourinho’s faith (or lack of) in youth. Certainly, the Portuguese’s record with young players is not the best. And while he had his fair share of success with talented youngsters (Arjen Robben, Mesut Özil, Kurt Zouma and Raphael Varane to name a few), giving regular chances to players he gave debuts to is not his cup of tea.
Having said that, Mourinho’s arrival to Old Trafford in this particular time could potentially make an impact in the club’s future like no other manager in recent memory. United’s under-21 have been very successful in the last couple of years with many leagues won, displaying an important generation of players in Axel Tuanzebe, Marcus Rashford, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, RoShaun Williams, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and James Weir, while a couple older players such as Jesse Lingard, Adnan Januzaj – who may or may not be on his way to Sunderland -- and James Wilson. And among all those players, Andreas Pereira could be considered the jewel of the crown; the shining star of United’s most promising crop of youngsters since The Class of ’92.
The young Brazilian was rewarded for his form with the under-21s with a brand new contract at the end of Louis Van Gaal’s first season. With hopes of playing in the 2015/16 season, Pereira didn’t go on loan – reportedly, because Van Gaal promised him more game time in January – but to no avail; Pereira played scarcely under the Dutchman’s tutelage. The youngster’s ability to make deadly passes, bypass the opposition and creativity to make the unexpected happen did not have a place in Van Gaal’s ultra-safe system.
Now enters José Mourinho, and the former Chelsea manager gave some plaudits about Pereira’s talents, which begs the question: does Andreas Pereira have a role to play in the club’s new era? He's outgrown the under-21 league and now he’s in a position where everybody knows that he needs minutes at senior level. And considering that his favorite role is as a classic number 10, he would not find space in that position with the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Wayne Rooney and (possibly) Juan Mata in that area.
Andreas Pereira is a talented player with very good passing, great skills and the capacity to play in many different positions; he can perform as an attacking midfielder, a centre midfielder and on both wings. His polyvalence can be a positive thing because it can give him more opportunities to step in as a sub or as a unexpected starter. But the reality of the matter is that a player of his qualities needs to have a defined role to play in and grow into the position; there’s no point in making him a jack of all trades and a master of none.
The Brazilian is, at this point of his career, just too good to keep playing in the reserves and needs to play at senior level. It’s his moment. While rumours of a loan to Premier League champions Leicester City have been circling around, the best case scenario for United would be to keep Pereira and allow him to learn all the traits of Mourinho’s system, so he can adjust fluidly. A loan could always have the dangerous consequence of him playing in a different system that may or may not play to his strengths.
That’s what is best for Manchester United. What’s best for Pereira? All things considered, a loan deal may have ramifications on his tactical understanding of Mourinho’s ideological concepts, but the experience of playing in the Premier League (or another of the major European leagues), getting minutes and fighting for an specific goal -- relegation, European qualification, titles, you name it -- can always make a youngster come back stronger mentally and better adjusted to the demands of United. A pretty rare individual talent, Pereira is not the type of player that grows on trees, and it's important that United seize him because it could potentially end up with us spending a world-record-breaking transfer fee to get him back! All things considered, this is a problem that any team would like to have: a young player with lots of upside not getting many chances because of the plethora of options (Mata, the Armenian and the man formerly known as Wayne Rooney) that United has.
If Louis van Gaal left anything worth remembering at United, it was the living proof that there’s talent in the club’s youth system. Rashford, Lingard, Borthwick-Jackson and Fosu-Mensah showed how capable youngsters can be of stepping up in times of need; if they were capable of doing it during the times of injuries and van Gaal’s often negative approach to matches, then Pereira should be given a chance in a much more free system of play, and in what should be a more stable period for the club.
Footballers’ careers can often be made or broken because of one specific moment, one specific decision or one specific period. Pereira’s upcoming season can prove to be vital for the development of the rest of his career. Will he be a success at United? Why not? Players like Rashford and Lingard managed to do it. Why not Pereira?