“Pereira is happy. He’s playing. My only little concern is that he’s playing in a position that doesn’t exist in Manchester United.”
The United boss may be concerned the 21-year-old is playing wide in a 4-4-2 formation at the Mestalla, meaning he is not developing within a role that will be directly transferable upon his anticipated return to the red side of Manchester next season, but Mourinho can’t help but be impressed with the youngster’s performances.
After years of disappointing mediocrity, Valencia are now back where they believe they have always belonged: in the upper echelons of La Liga. They currently trail Barcelona and Atlético Madrid in third but are a point above reigning Spanish, European and world champions Real Madrid.
Featuring in 17 of Los Che‘s 22 league fixtures so far this term, a starter ten times, Pereira has played no small part in the rise of Marcelino’s men, impressing with his technical quality, ingenuity and workrate.
An injury sustained in a Copa del Rey quarter-final defeat to Barcelona in early February is set to keep Pereira sidelined for a few weeks, but the pause will give the gifted midfielder the chance to reflect upon what has been a thoroughly worthwhile few months in Spain.
The Brazil Under-23 international spent the entirety of last season on loan with Granada in the Spanish top flight. And although the Andalusian side suffered relegation, Pereira’s individual performances were widely acclaimed, hence the interest from Valencia this term.
With Valencia looking a shoo-in for a top-four finish this season, Pereira will be enjoying the current campaign a lot more than he did the last, feeling content with his decision to temporarily leave United for the good of his personal development.
Pereira was heavily involved in the Red Devils’ pre-season campaign last summer, impressing in a rather unfamiliar deep-lying playmaker role through United’s tour of the United States, as well as in a couple of fixtures upon their return to Europe.
While competition for places was always going to be stiff, battling for minutes with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini and new signing Nemanja Matić, it seemed as though Mourinho had faith in the young midfielder and intended to retain him as part of the first team for the new season.
“[At first] I was thinking that I want to stay,” Pereira told The Guardian recently.
“But as the pre-season went on I had the feeling: ‘I don’t think I’m going to play enough, I’m not going to get a lot of minutes. I have to play, I have to continue developing.’
“He [Mourinho] told me I had to stay but I wanted to play and get more minutes.”
With 879 La Liga minutes (and counting) under his belt thus far, Pereira’s decision to seek first-team action outside the Premier League appears to have been vindicated.
Had he remained at Old Trafford, the 21-year-old would likely have occupied the squad position Scott McTominay currently finds himself in, acting as a deputy to the more established midfield stars.
While McTominay has impressed this term, he has only made four Premier League appearances, two of which as a starter, for a total of 179 minutes, although he has tasted Champions League football twice in the group stages.
The only remaining debate over Pereira’s decision to go to Valencia circles around whether more minutes in a different system, within a different league, is better for his long-term United future than less game time but as part of Mourinho’s set-up. Only time and Pereira’s eventual return to Old Trafford will furnish us with any clarity to that end.
But there is no doubt Pereira has grown as a footballer over the last 18 months in La Liga, exponentially so this season.
Regarded as a prospect of real note within the United academy ever since his 2011 switch from PSV Eindhoven, the Brazilian has added steel, robustness and maturity to the technical gifts that have always been abundant in his game. And though playing, as he has been, on either flank in a midfield four isn’t directly analogous to any current role at the Theatre of Dreams, such versatility and an appreciation of the demands of different roles will only serve him well in the long run.
On his decision not to recall Pereira from his loan during the January transfer window, Mourinho explained: “The experience he’s having, playing in a good competition, in a good club, in a difficult club because it’s a club with big fanbase, with pressure around, I think is an amazing experience for him and we are happy to let him [stay] there.”
And Pereira, despite some reports to the contrary, still sees his future with United. “I’m sure if it works out, next year I will be back there and it will be better for both of us [he and Mourinho],” he said in the same Guardian interview.
Pereira’s absence this season has subsequently created another positional rival for his eventual return to Old Trafford in the shape of McTominay. But, while United are being linked with moves to recruit for the central midfield positions in the summer, Carrick’s impending retirement and the expiring contract of Fellaini should brith new opportunities.
Maybe then the time will be right for Pereira to come home.