MANCHESTER, England (AP) — The excitement at being talent-spotted by Manchester United brought on moments of youthful giddiness for Andreas Pereira.
From being told by his footballer father of United’s tentative interest in him as a teenager, to the first meeting with the managerial colossus Alex Ferguson and being greeted in Portuguese.
“I was starstruck and I just wanted to join United straight away,” Pereira recalled in an interview with The Associated Press. “He told me there was always a place for a
Brazilian in his team … and I didn’t want to leave.”
Pereira would have to wait until he was 16 to officially start in the United academy in 2012. But there was a moment of confusion over what everyone was doing in his first practice after joining from Dutch club PSV Eindhoven.
“I wanted to show my skills,” Pereira said, “and it was rugby.”
The midfielder was eventually able to flaunt his skills, and made his first-team debut in August 2014. That night, against the MK Dons in the League Cup, the Belgium-born Brazilian extended the line of academy graduates featuring in United’s matchday squads stretching back to 1937.
The link remains unbroken, with the sequence reaching 4,000 continuous games today when Everton plays at Old Trafford in the English Premier League.
“It shows that they give opportunities to young players,” the 23-year-old Pereira said, returning to the academy building at United’s Aon Training Complex. “It’s difficult at first. It’s not easy.”
United has produced some of the game’s greatest names — from Bobby Charlton in the 1950s to David Beckham in the famed “Class of 92.”
“It’s in our DNA,” said United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who won the treble as a player alongside Beckham in 1999. “This club is built on having your own local lads and academy players coming through and we pride ourselves on that.”
Pereira has played in all but one of United’s 16 Premier League games this season, featuring alongside fellow academy graduates Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay and Mason Greenwood.
The 18-year-old Greenwood is among 10 academy players to get their first-team debuts at United in 2019, with graduates accounting for 35 per cent of playing time. Of the 38 goals, 34 have been scored or assisted by an academy player.
“We’ve been playing for United a long time, we know everybody,” Pereira said. “So it’s not like Mason comes and plays with us and we’re like, ‘Who is this new boy?’
“I remember when I played with him in the cage game at United. He was still a little boy … but we knew he was good and we knew that one day we’d play together.”
For every success story, however, there are many more who do not made the grade long-term at United.
Adnan Januzaj was Pereira’s best friend at United. The Belgian enjoyed a rapid promotion to the first team but his impact was fleeting after helping to win the title with goals toward the end of Ferguson’s final season in charge in 2013.
The striker fell out of favour in the post-Ferguson era and spent two seasons largely out on loan before leaving in 2017.