If he plays on for another ten years or more, Manchester United midfielder Andreas Pereira might never score a better goal in his career than the thunderous volley that cannoned into the net off the underside of the crossbar in the club’s a pre-season friendly with Brentford.
Having joined the academy at the age of 16 and being tipped for future stardom, Pereira has much to prove at United. He made 40 appearances in all competitions in 2019/20 but started only 18 times in the Premier League and was pushed out of contention in the second half of the campaign when the arrival of Bruno Fernandes sparked significant improvement in results.
Critics suggested that Pereira, who had previously failed to command a regular place and had played most of his football prior to that point on loan in Spain, was only involved because of a lack of other better alternatives. When Fernandes arrived and Paul Pogba returned to fitness, he was suddenly limited to occasional substitute appearances at best, if he even made the bench at all.
Pereira was then deemed surplus to requirements by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last summer and was subsequently sent on loan to Lazio with an option to buy for €27m.
If he could impress in Italy it represented a good opportunity for United to raise some cash for a player with no future in Manchester. Pereira made a respectable 26 appearances in Serie A, but only three were as a starter and he made nowhere near enough of an impact to justify paying €27m.
As a result, the player now dubbed the ‘Pre-season Pirlo’ has found himself back at United this summer. He has been heavily involved so far, but only because Fernandes, Pogba, Fred and Scott McTominay have been on delayed holidays after playing at international tournaments. Even Donny van de Beek has only just returned to the fold after nursing an injury.
But in one isolated moment as United faced Brentford at Old Trafford in their third friendly of the summer, nothing about Pereira’s future or lack of prospects at the club mattered, because he scored an unbelievable goal in what was only a second home game in front of fans in 16 months.
United were allowed to have 10,000 fans present for their final home game of last season against Fulham as coronavirus restrictions in England started to ease. But in a stadium the size of Old Trafford it was barely a fraction full. This time, as clubs come to terms with the end of official restrictions yet continue to ensure all supporters will remain safe, 30,000 were in attendance.
Old Trafford was getting on for half full when Pereira struck a ball as sweetly as he ever has or will again. A slightly less than half full Old Trafford would once have been a sad sight, but in the context of the last year-and-a-half in the midst of a pandemic, it was magical.
Regardless of the 2-2 scoreline and the prestige of the fixture, Pereira’s goal was a perfect way to start welcoming fans back to United games after so long away.
There was nothing really on when the ball dropped out of the sky to Pereira. Jesse Lingard had driven forward to the edge of the penalty area and seen a low shot beaten away by the goalkeeper. The loose ball was headed away high into the night sky and out of the box and the sensible thing for Pereira to do would have been to control and start a new wave of attack.
Instead, positioned around 25 yards out, he wound up for the shot and fired the ball first time on the volley back towards the goal. It flew towards the top corner and crashed off the underside off the bar, with Brentford stopper David Raya only able to watch on.
It would have been sensational anyway had it simply hit the back of the net, but there’s always something a bit more special when a volley like that goes in off the bar.
Solskjaer later called it ‘out of this world’ and, whatever happens, it will remain a moment for Pereira and the 30,000 fans who witnessed it live to treasure.