Go back a little over a year, to August 2017, and young Manchester United midfielder Andreas Pereira had made up his mind – he was leaving.
It was not for good – he still believed he had what it took to break into the United starting XI – but to develop from a promising youngster into a fully-fledged professional he knew he needed to get as much playing time as possible.
The problem? Well, Jose Mourinho already thought Pereira was good enough to be part of his first-team squad and was keen to close the exit door.
With the towering figure of Mourinho standing in the way, we can safely assume that it’s not easy for a young player to get what they want. But Pereira was not afraid of the challenge. He stood firm and, on September 1st last year, was allowed to go on a season-long loan to Valencia.
The manager was still not happy. “Andreas Pereira was a personal decision that I don't agree with," Mourinho said at the time. "A decision I don't think honestly is the best decision for him, a decision that disappoints me a little bit, because I think he has the potential to be here fighting for a position, for opportunities.”
But, over the course of the La Liga season, Pereira’s obstinance in the face of his manager’s wishes proved entirely justified. He appeared 29 times in a side that qualified for the Champions League and made an admirable run to the semi-final of the Copa Del Rey.
And now, after starting two of United’s first four games of the season, he has been rewarded with his very first call-up to the full Brazil squad for the upcoming friendlies in the USA.
The spell at Valencia was, in fact, his second consecutive season in Spain after spending the previous year in a relegation scrap with Granada, where he was briefly managed by Arsenal legend Tony Adams.
During those two years in the Spanish top flight, Pereira gained invaluable experience – both battling at the bottom of the league and tussling at the top – and proved that he is capable of becoming the consummate modern professional, playing in any role that a coach may request of him.
At Granada, he was the team’s attacking fulcrum, playing as a number 10 in behind a lone striker. With Valencia, on the other hand, he was usually deployed wide in a 4-4-2 formation, expected to get the ball forward quickly and swing accurate crosses towards Simone Zaza and Rodrigo.
Now back at Old Trafford, in the games against Leicester and Brighton Mourinho used Pereira as the deepest lying of a midfield three, asking him to shield the defence and initiate United’s attacks.
When questioned about his preferred position on Brazilian television, the 22-year-old did not specify just one, instead saying, “I am pretty much a complete midfielder.”
It is that versatility that caused Tite to take note, as the manager looks to rebuild the Brazil team that so disappointingly dropped out of the World Cup at the quarter-final stage.
The middle of the park was Brazil’s weakest point in Russia, with Philippe Coutinho improvising as a central midfielder rather than in his usual place as part of a front three. Pereira, then, is a good option to have.
There is, however, another factor that has expedited the decision to bring him into the squad.
Pereira was born and raised in Belgium and, despite both his parents hailing from South America’s biggest country, he has never lived there.
His father Marcos was a professional footballer who made a steady career in Belgium – coincidentally the country that knocked the Selecao out in Russia – playing for sides like Sint-Truidense and Lommel SK.
Andreas has represented both countries at youth level and rumours that Roberto Martinez would call him up for the senior side had started to circulate. Tite, then, wanted to assure the player’s allegiance to the land where his forebears were born.
Pereira was more than happy to accept. Speaking in perfect, accent-free Portuguese – one of the five languages in which he is fluent – he recently told Globo that, “I grew up in Belgium, but I always felt foreign there.”
“In my house,” he continued, “we always spoke Portuguese. I have a house in Brazil, I always go on holiday there. My dream was the Brazilian national team.”
The call-up has brought about a substantial level of interest in the Brazilian media as Pereira will become only the fourth player born outside Brazil to represent the Selecao at senior level. The last of the other three did so in 1918.
It is, therefore, something of a novelty for fans of the Selecao and has raised some questions about what it means to be Brazilian. But most people have received the news with curiosity rather than animosity.
Brazil play the USA in New Jersey on Friday night and El Salvador in Maryland on Tuesday, and Pereira will undoubtedly get the chance to show what he can do at some point during the two encounters.
With Renato Augusto and Paulinho now out of the squad, there will be opportunities for younger players like Pereira, Barcelona new-boy Arthur and Flamengo prodigy Lucas Paqueta to stake a claim for a permanent berth in the starting team.
Nailing down a place will not be easy as all the new call-ups will be desperate to make the squad for next year’s Copa America, which will be played in Brazil. But Pereira will be ready for whatever comes his way.
As he told Globo when he opted to represent Brazil over Belgium, “the choice says a lot about my character. I’ve never been afraid of challenges.”