The traditional English pre-season fixture routine can be agonising and undesirable for a number of reasons – players most of us have never heard of given starting berths, a flat atmosphere amongst supporters, the absence of major tournament stars, and a sweeping lethargy across the pitch lasting 90 excruciating minutes – something invariably pinned on the heat.
And yet, in spite of the insufferable humidity, few things seem more unfashionable than that of proper effort. A controversial assertion maybe, but pure incentive isn’t exactly the order of the day among the first handful of pre-season jog outs, save for the sprinkling of young talent across the team sheet who are hoping to break into the first team.
Even so, a lot of young players show up too respectful of their senior peers and display inhibition, or arrive at a rare first-team outing disoriented among established company, having spent the best part of the previous campaign in the under 21s or out on loan.
And few seem to do enough in preventing the same fate again, with pre-season form among fringe players often viewed in isolation, and not within the dialect of a hyper-physical Premier League, as if no pre-season encounter could ever dream of imitating a domestic match falling after mid-August.
So do young hopefuls emerge from pre-season feeling vindicated in their efforts? To call upon young players and seemingly ‘reward’ them with a start so early on in pre-season could be read in one of two ways – indictment or endorsement – as less thought of ‘squad players’ keep up appearances under the thumb of their big name employers before being shelved.
Last season, Manchester United youngster Andreas Pereira wasn’t permitted a loan spell away, instead promised game time by then manager Louis van Gaal, which hardly materialised.
It shouldn’t be a surprise then that young players usually welcome loan moves elsewhere, however expedient such player departures are for clubs in trimming surpluses across the short term.
But, despite Pereira’s insistence he leave Old Trafford last season and take up a loan spell, discerning United fans and critics would now consider his doing just that an insult, with derision targeted at a manager liable for the mass creative exodus at his last club, Chelsea.
While a command of Portuguese could win the Brazilian Pereira a friend in Jose Mourinho, there’s a potential catch to their relationship. As outings of recent weeks suggest, United’s manager sees his Belgium-born prospect becoming the new Nemanja Matic.
If indeed this is the case, don’t be surprised when footballing purists rally on behalf of a gifted young playmaker and bemoan his refashioning as a holding midfielder.
Afforded just 15 minutes of The Red Devils’ match against Borussia Dortmund last week, a confused Pereira showed a lack of positional awareness defensively, however classy he was in collecting the ball and relaying it in Xavi-like style.
Giving away a cheap free kick after challenging a player from behind, having been caught too far up the pitch, it’s evident the Brazilian youth international isn’t cut out to be the next Matic.
While producing an excellent display a fortnight ago at Wigan Athletic under this very guise, including a sublime goal in the aftermath of a set-piece, we shouldn’t neglect that Manchester United dominated possession that game and were hardly exposed on the break. But this won’t be the case across the regular season.
Pereira simply isn’t prepared to repel the Premier League’s best counter-attacking sides like Matic does, and, while Mourinho has capable cover elsewhere in Michael Carrick, he’ll be eyeing a back up to the ageing midfielder, as Pereira competes directly with a bunch of players not strictly holding midfielders themselves in Phil Jones, Morgan Schneiderlin, Marouane Fellaini and Daley Blind. Sure, a certain French international linked to United could screen the back four, but even he came up short doing so at Euro 2016.
Contrary to popular reckoning, we’re entering an equivocal time at Manchester United, with goings on this summer contributing an unseemly aura of elitism, strange even by United’s standards and barely a window into what’s becoming a full squad overhaul under Mourinho.
The dizzying media hype championing next season’s footballing vogue should be taken with a pinch of salt amidst a narrative as much about Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj and others likely to prove the fall guys of the new United.
While Pereira has won early favour this pre-season under his new manager, nothing should be taken for granted as observers prepare for less of the free-flowing form we saw across last season, where Pereira dazzled in Manchester United’s under 21s.
The future is bright for the Brazilian-European, now streetwise enough to recognise the Machiavelian in Mourinho, however impressionable his judgment under Louis van Gaal.
Game time is one thing, but it’s of little use when the player at question is deployed outside of his natural range – Andreas Pereira is a number 10 in the purest sense and shouldn’t settle for anything less.