While it’s certainly hard topic to talk about, one of United’s most embarrassing ordeals of recent times was letting Paul Pogba leave for Juventus in the summer of 2012. The French wonderkid came up through the Red Devil’s youth academy after being bought from French side Le Havre at age 16 and was immediately dubbed a star of the future. But, like all great young players, limited opportunities and disappointment with progression led the center midfielder to pursue other playing options where his skill would be valued more. Two years down the road, the same problem is happening with 19 year old Brazilian midfielder Andreas Pereira.
Pogba, like Pereira, felt he was ready for first team football and grew increasingly frustrated when Sir Alex Ferguson continuously passed up on including the youngster in his first team squad. Now, two years after Pogba’s departure, the Frenchman is one of the most sought after properties in the football world, with Real Madrid reportedly interested in his services for a reported fee of up to €100 million, according to his agent Mino Raiola. And it would be absolutely gut-wrenching for me, as well as many other United fans, to see Pereira walk out on the club and eventually develop into an immense talent, as so many are tipping him to do.
Pereira made his first team debut under Louis van Gaal earlier this season as a second half substitute in United’s utterly-disappointing 4-0 defeat to League One side MK Dons in the second round of the League Cup, but has since failed to cement his name in the Dutchman’s match day squads. In his defence, breaking into United’s first team is arguably one of the toughest goals for a young player to achieve in recent times, especially considering the star power that the Red Devils’ midfield boasts. And it really is a shame, as the young Brazilian is truly as good as his reputation claims.
A natural attacking midfielder, Pereira – playing in United’s reserve side – operates as a free-moving center midfielder who is usually involved in the build-up play, while often dropping back to create situations from a deeper position. His style can be most compared to a cross between the current position that van Gaal has Wayne Rooney playing in – a midfield play-maker that drops back to collect the ball deep in the midfield, then making his move into the attack – and that of Angel Di Maria, who looks to get into open spaces out wide and create opportunities using his pace and quick feet. Pereira scored a fantastic game-winning goal earlier this week in the U21 squad, and has been consistent in ensuring that he is involved in most of the team’s goals. His performances this season prove that he is already one of the top players in the Premier League reserve squads, teetering on the edge of making his name in United’s first team, if he were given the chance.
In my opinion, this weekend would be a solid opportunity for van Gaal to utilise the youthful talent he has and maybe add some spark into a midfield that so often seems as if it is missing a link. United face a Sunderland side that can be described as hot and cold at best, currently situated just above the relegation zone. And with James Wilson and Robin van Persie unavailable for selection, Wayne Rooney will most likely partner Falcao up top, which could signal a spot on the bench for Pereira. Since it’s highly unlikely van Gaal will select an untested reserve player to start ahead of the likes of Juan Mata, Angel Di Maria, Ander Herrera, Adnan Januzaj, or Marouanne Fellaini (Daley Blind is virtually a lock to start as United’s holding midfielder), it would be both smart and resourceful to include Pereira on the bench and bring him on at some point in the second half, hopefully signalling the start of the Brazilian’s inclusion in the first team squad.
Don’t get me twisted – this suggestion isn’t simply to ensure that Pereira signs a new deal with the club. I genuinely believe he can make an impact in United’s midfield, especially with how mediocre our current attacking midfielders (Mata and Di Maria) have been in terms of creating open-play, goal-scoring opportunities. There is something missing in the attacking third of United’s squad, and it’s times like these when youth often can, and should, be called upon to inspire – as seen in Januzaj last season, Raheem Sterling at Liverpool in 2012, Thomas Muller at Bayern Munich in 2009, and several other scenarios. When proven players fail to perform, it’s the unproven ones that can be the game changers, and that is exactly what I believe Pereira can be for United. Hopefully van Gaal shares my philosophy as well.