Andreas Pereira cares not for your modern, pressing tactics. The 22-year-old Manchester United midfielder recently went viral for that single clip in which he eluded three Real Madrid players, drawing comparisons ranging from Isco to Luka Modric. It was only an exhibition match, sure, but it was still an impressive piece of skill and showed a glimpse of the player Pereira may one day turn into. Likewise, 18-year-old Manchester City midfielder Claudio Gomes showcased his calm under pressure in the buildup to this goal against Liverpool during their friendly. Descriptions of Gomes being part of the blueprint for a new Pep Guardiola side soon followed. Every player can look world class in the preseason, especially those on the fringes attempting to play their way onto the first team. But these small moments captured on video, and the optimism and analysis from overeager supporters desperate to discover the next great superstar at their club, define the soccer’s preseason in the social media age.
Last year, Liverpool’s then 17-year-old attacker Ben Woodburn went viral after his incisive preseason displays. And similar to how Jack Wilshere’s performance against Barcelona as a 19-year-old was a highlight of the YouTube compilation era, these clips on Twitter are now evidence for supporters to return in discussing a player’s quality regardless of whether they actually develop into the player seen on a timeline. The viral moment is both a breakout on the world’s stage and a burden.
Described as a generational talent from PSG’s youth academy, Gomes signed to City on a free transfer this summer. His energy and tackling ability have drawn easy comparisons to N’Golo Kante. And one would assume with his age, lack of first team experience, and Manchester City’s midfield depth that he would get loaned out for this season at the very least. While emphasizing the importance of playing time, the usually articulate Guardiola could only describe the defensive midfielder as being “so, good, so good”. Gomes may see first team action backing up Fernandinho in the holding role this season.
But while Woodburn and Gomes are still 18 years old, Pereira’s professional journey culminating into his viral display is typical for a promising youth player at a big club. Since moving to the United’s youth academy from PSV as a 15-year-old in 2011, the center midfielder has made just five league appearances in the first team squad. He spent the 2016 season on loan at Granada and last season on loan at Valencia. This summer was a pivotal moment in his United career. At 22 years old, Pereira is at the age where players either begin to embed themselves into their parent club, or spend another season in purgatory, on loan before further fading into the background for an eventual permanent sale.
In a minor upset, Pereira’s viral summer paid off with tangible results. Not only did Jose Mourinho decide against sending the midfielder back on loan, Pereira will start in United’s opening match against Leicester City. His development and improvement is especially impressive consider Mourinho’s reputation for overlooking youth players for stability. And compare Pereira’s summer to teammate Anthony Martial, also the same age. Reportedly frustrated with his role, Martial left United’s training camp for eight days and was threatened with a $230,000 fine. The winger is now rumored to be available in the transfer window.
The contrast between Pereira and Martial’s current situation highlights the importance of playing time in a player’s development cycle, regardless of the team or the league. At Pereira’s current age, Kevin de Bruyne had just finished a season on loan at Werder Bremen where he played 33 matches. After being loaned out to Sheffield United for this upcoming season, a recent headline exclaimed that Woodburn “has gone from wonderkid to a man but now much return a player” when he returns to Liverpool. A player turns from prodigy to forgotten just as quickly. Except on Twitter, where we’ll always have those brief moments to remind us of what a player could have been. And we’ll always have another preseason.