I’m loving life in Fulham’s crazy gang, with Mitrovic trying to speak Portuguese and brutal Palhinha tackles in training

ANDREAS PEREIRA was just 15 when Sir Alex Ferguson turned up and persuaded him to ‘drop everything’ and move to England.

Despite that show of faith from one of football’s greatest managers, it has taken more than a decade for the Brazilian playmaker to become an established Premier League star.

Andreas Pereira is ‘dreaming big’ with FulhamJamie McPhilimey

The Brazilian recently caught up with SunSportJamie McPhilimey

Pereira, 27, is one of several Fulham players proving a point to former employers since he finally left Manchester United last summer, after a string of loan moves and a series of frustrations which left him feeling ‘under-appreciated’ at Old Trafford.

But if Fulham beat Tottenham at Craven Cottage tonight, Marco Silva’s band of misfits will replace their opponents in fifth place.

It turns out Fergie could spot a player and that the great man had his eye in when he arrived at PSV Eindhoven’s training ground and secured Pereira’s signature in 2011.

Although Pereira — now fluent in six languages — admits he struggled to understand Ferguson’s thick Glaswegian accent.

Pereira recalled: “I wasn’t sure if I would go to United but when I spoke with Sir Alex I just wanted to leave everything behind and go there.

“I knew he was one of the best managers in the world, that he’d been there a very long time and won everything.

“For him to come over personally had a big impact for me and my dad.

“As soon as we met him, it was like something out of this world, we’d just see him on television . . . 

HOW TO GET FREE BETS ON FOOTBALL

EPAPereira made 75 first team appearances for Manchester United[/caption]

“The first words he said to me I didn’t understand because of his accent — but the impression he left, I will never forget.”

Pereira’s father, Marcos, was a Brazilian centre-forward who played top-flight football in Belgium, where his son was born and raised.

The Fulham star said: “Watching Dad was an inspiration. I wanted to be like him.

“He was always telling me he was a better player than me — he still does — but now I can tell him I’m better.”

In over a decade at United, Pereira never quite nailed down a regular starting spot.

He frequently dazzled in pre-season, only to suffer from a lack of opportunities once the campaign got under way.

‘A PLAYER NEEDS CONFIDENCE’

So he went on loan to Valencia and Granada in Spain, to Lazio in Serie A and Flamengo in Brazil, the country he has one senior cap for.

Of his time at United, Pereira said: “A player needs confidence. It’s difficult when a club buys so many players and, coming from the youth team, maybe you don’t get so much appreciation — that’s what I felt.

“So at Fulham, I wanted to prove a point that I can play every week at the highest level and make a difference.”

During the 2019-2020 campaign, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Pereira chalked up 25 Premier League appearances for United.

He added: “Yes but then Covid came.

I knew I needed to move permanently last summer, to start from scratch and build something

Andreas Pereira

“It was an up and down season, I played a lot out of position on the left or right wing so I didn’t get five or six games in my best position and the confidence to take that position — that is what Marco has given me here.

“I knew I needed to move permanently last summer, to start from scratch and build something.

“When Marco called me, he said it was ‘a great opportunity for you to show people who you really are’.”

Pereira has done that in spades. A creative No 10, a dead-ball specialist but also a workaholic off the ball, he has two goals and five assists.

His man-of-the-match performance in Fulham’s last home game against Chelsea was his best to date.

On that night, Pereira set up the winner for countryman Carlos Vinicius after another compatriot, Willian, had opened the scoring.

It was just like watching Brazil as Fulham defeated their neighbours for the first time in 17 years, when Silva’s first-team coach, Luis Boa Morte, had netted the only goal.

Now Chelsea have to look over their shoulders

Andreas Pereira

Pereira said: “It was a very special night. Marco said the last time Fulham won the derby, Boa scored the winner. They showed us the video. To win will make the rivalry stronger.

“Now Chelsea have to look over their shoulders.”

Pereira’s £10million move from United was met with some scepticism. The recruitment of a 34-year-old Willian, who had flopped at Arsenal, even more so.

Then there was keeper Bernd Leno, who had lost his place at Arsenal.

And Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic — “a funny guy, who keeps trying to speak Portuguese”, according to Pereira.

Mitrovic netted 43 goals in last season’s Championship title-winning campaign but his top-flight ability was doubted by everyone who had not been watching closely.

All four have been outstanding this season. As has £20m Portuguese midfield enforcer Joao Palhinha — a man Pereira claims tackles even harder in training than he does in matches.

‘UNBELIEVABLE QUALITY’

Pereira said: “We all know we have unbelievable quality. The manager put us together and believed in us.

“This is the most important thing. The confidence he gives to me is out of this world.

“That’s why everyone is playing so well. Sometimes that’s all that a player needs. I was needing this a bit more at United.

“I’ve never had a coach who explains every single thing that can happen on the pitch. I love working for him.”

Pereira almost signed on loan at Fulham in 2016 when manager Slavisa Jokanovic went public with his frustration at the club blocking the move.

Instead, he went to Granada, where he met his Spanish wife Patricia, with whom he has two children — Maria Victoria, who celebrates her third birthday this week and one-year-old son Gianluca.

When Pereira finally arrived at the Cottage, Silva’s stated aim was Premier League survival.

So what now, with Fulham making an unlikely challenge for Europe?

Pereira said: “We did the first half of the season really well but the most difficult part is now because opponents know how we play.

“It’s not like ‘Ah, Fulham’ — now they are prepared and take more care. I know it’s going to be harder now but I also know with the qualities we have, we can dream big.”

ReutersPereira, 27, is having his best ever Prem season[/caption]

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