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For Andreas Pereira, there is an upside to life in isolation. Under normal circumstances, Manchester United would be playing games across Europe, but the coronavirus pandemic has put a stop to that and, like every other Premier League footballer, he is spending an extended spell at home for the first time in his career. The timing is fortunate; two-month-old daughter Maria-Victoria is keeping Pereira occupied.
“It’s really strange,” Pereira said in an interview with ESPN. “I’m home all the time and I’m not used to this life. I’m used to playing football every day, travelling, playing games … It’s like I’m retired!
“I’m not sleeping so good, but it’s fine. I’m enjoying being with the family — the baby and my wife. It’s been very chilled and nice to stay with the family because normally we are travelling. I really like it (being a new father). It’s a lot of work but it’s fine — my wife is here, so I can relax sometimes.
Pereira is trying to balance his new duties with maintaining his fitness during the lockdown, imposed by the UK government. United’s Carrington training base remains off-limits to players not injured and the majority of staff, leaving the squad to manage themselves with help from the club. Each player has an individual training programme, and a chef is allowed to prepare meals and drop them off to ensure they are eating properly. Still, it is difficult to replicate the intensity of normal training sessions, and Pereira says the long days can be mentally draining.
“I’m working very hard, doing my gym stuff that the club sends me, running and the other things you can do at home,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you just want to play football again. It’s tough because I’m here with my wife and my baby alone. We have friends here, but we cannot see them because we are in lockdown. Parts of it have been nice, but we want to get back playing once everyone is healthy and back to normal.”
Pereira’s quarantine routine begins after he wakes up at around 7 a.m. and includes a gym session with the equipment he has at home, followed by a run. It’s nothing he is not used to, having been a professional since he was 16 — the only difference now is that he doesn’t know what he’s training for.
“If it’s next week, two weeks or in a month there is a game, you have to be ready,” he said. “That’s the most difficult part. We don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s difficult for your mindset when you don’t know what you’re training for. It could be weeks or months — we don’t know. In your mind you’re like, ‘I just want it to start.’
“[Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the coaching staff] keep in touch with us and send messages, asking how we’re doing, if everything is OK, if we need something and how the family is. Ole has sent messages to me, so they’re on top of us and make sure they have everything we need. In that aspect, they have been great.”
After training, Pereira is left finding ways to fill the days. He has shaved his head — it prompted Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial to do the same — and posted a video on TikTok in which he pretends to make a bowl of cereal with his feet.
The squad have all sent videos of them attempting the toilet roll challenge to Jesse Lingard, and the competition on Fortnite and FIFA is fierce.
“There’s a lot of Fortnite and a lot of FIFA with friends and teammates — and FaceTime,” said Pereira, who highlights the gaming prowess of two teammates. “It’s the only way to make the time go past. He hasn’t played for a while but the best at Fortnite is Luke [Shaw]. He was really on top, but now he doesn’t play because his baby arrived. Maybe it’s Victor [Lindelof] now. He’s there. He’s the one to beat.”
With the crisis deepening — “I’m also watching the news every day to see if things are getting easier, but at the moment it just looks like it’s getting worse,” Pereira said — there is no indication yet about when football will be able to return. The 24-year-old’s preference is to find a way to complete this season, particularly because United still have the Europa League and FA Cup to play for and a chance to finish in the Premier League’s top four.
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“It would be difficult to accept that the season is void,” he said. “We were doing well as a team and myself — I found myself again. I scored a goal in the last game and then it finished! We had a good thing going and some momentum and now we’ve stopped and we don’t know what to expect. We feel like it’s preseason.”
Before the shutdown, Solskjaer’s team put together an 11-game unbeaten run in all competitions, including two wins over Manchester City and another over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It meant the Norwegian’s first anniversary of being appointed as manager on a permanent basis — on March 28 — was celebrated with renewed optimism that United have finally found a path back to the top, seven years after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
“The manager has always said that it’s not going to change in one year — it needs time,” said Pereira. “You see now it’s one year after he took over officially and you can see already the progress we have made as a team. We’ve had a lot of injured players, but we still coped.
“We are still playing for two trophies and we can reach the top four. Everybody said in the beginning of the season that was impossible for us. For Man United, we know we have to challenge for all the trophies, but we are rebuilding and we will get there. We’re strong now and I’m sure next season, when we start, we will be much stronger again.”
Only Harry Maguire and Fred have played in more games for United this season than Pereira, who is determined to repay the faith shown in him when he signed a long-term contract — lasting until 2023 — in July last year.
“The start of the season was good for me — I started a lot of games,” he said. “In December and January, I felt a bit tired because I’d played a lot of games in a row. I had to cope with that. It was the first season, really, that I did that at United. I’ve played a lot of different positions, and when I’ve played in my favourite position as an attacking midfielder, I played well, I was important and created a lot of occasions. That’s my goal: to play in my position more often and show the manager I can be important there.”
Pereira has started 18 of United’s 29 league games, and his record of 30 chances created is second only to Fred among the Old Trafford squad. But he has just one goal and three assists and knows he can improve.
“I don’t think I’ve shown my full potential yet,” Pereira said. “When I’m playing more freely, I can show my real quality. This season, I really feel that the manager and the players can trust me to do my best for the team. I’m there. I will never hide. I will always show my face for the manager and for the club. It’s really a year for me to show that I’m here and now it’s time to kick on and play better.”
It’s not the only message he has for the fans: “Stay home, be safe and we’ll be back soon hopefully.”