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Joel Pereira On Man United, Hearts, RKC Waalwijk & Playing Under Mourinho

Joel Pereira On Man United, Hearts, RKC Waalwijk & Playing Under Mourinho

An interview with Joel Pereira by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You joined RKC Waalwijk in 2021. How do you reflect on your time in Dutch football at the club so far?

“I came to the Netherlands because I had reached a point in my career where I knew that I needed to leave Manchester United permanently after many loans in order to find my feet in the game.

“RKC Waalwijk is a strong, family club and once they approached me, I was immediately interested.

“I wanted the opportunity to play regularly and the club gave me that opportunity. The fans and the staff made me very welcome from day one of my arrival.

“I started well in the first two Eredivisie games upon my arrival until I suffered a back injury that ruled me out for seven months.

“That was an unfortunate setback and not something that I would have planned.

“Setbacks are part of football and I knew that I had to work hard to recover and return and thankfully I have been able to do that.”

How crucial has your manager Joseph Oosting been during that tough setback in supporting you and what is he to work with? 

“Joseph is doing a fantastic job at the club. That is clear to see. We finished 10th last season and are pushing in the right direction of the campaign so far.

“He is an enthusiastic, exciting coach who wants the team to play high-energy football. The fans are enjoying our attacking football which is great to see.

“He is a fantastic guy as well as a strong manager which is crucial to our success.

“It is a family club and Joseph is very much a part of that because he cares deeply about us as players and about the strength of the club as a whole.”

You started your professional career at Manchester United and trained alongside goalkeepers such as David De Gea and Sergio Romero. What did you learn from them and the coaches you worked under? 

“I spent nine years at Manchester United and I have fond memories from my time at the club.

“I arrived at the age of 15 and my dream was to make it to the first team. Thankfully, I was able to achieve that dream of training and playing with the first team.

“During that time, I worked with David and Sergio and I can honestly say that both of them were fantastic. Two world-class goalkeepers.

“I learned so much from them in training and they were great human beings. They taught me a lot on and off the field which was invaluable for me as a young man and as a young goalkeeper.

“I learned so much from being at Manchester United every day and I will cherish the memories forever.”

Jose Mourinho gave you your Premier League debut on the 21st of May, 2017 against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford. How special was that moment for you?

“It was a dream come true for me to represent Manchester United in the Premier League. To do so at Old Trafford and keep a clean sheet made it even more special.

“I will always be thankful to Jose Mourinho for his faith in me. He pulled me aside after training three weeks before the game to tell me that I would be given my Premier League debut by him in the coming weeks.

“He told me that he wanted me to be prepared fully for my debut and he asked me whether I wanted to play away against Southampton or at home against Crystal Palace.

“I told him that I wanted the Palace game because I did not need to think twice about the opportunity of representing United at Old Trafford. That is a moment every player dreams of.

“The day itself was such a special day. It was my debut and many young players also made their debut in the match but players such as Paul Pogba and Wayne Rooney started in the match too.

“We won 2-0 and it meant so much to not only make my debut but to be able to do so alongside world-class players like those and other players who I had progressed through the youth system with.

“It was a truly joyous moment for me and my family. The best moment of my career to date, for sure.”

What was it like to work under Josè Mourinho on a daily basis?  

“Jose was fantastic. He is one of the best managers in the history of the game and it was amazing to work for him.

“As well as being a world-class manager, he is also a top-class human being. He helped me a lot personally at the club. My relationship with him was strong and I only have good things to say about José and good memories from our time together.

“I will always be grateful to him for giving me my Premier League debut and for trusting me in other games for Manchester United in the cup competitions too.

“Working with him every day was an eye-opening experience for me because you could see why he has worked at the highest level such was his attention to detail and human qualities.”

You had a loan spell at Rochdale early in your career at United. How much did you learn from your time at Spotland?

“The loan to Rochdale was a good experience for me because it was my first loan and my first experience of first-team football.

“I was a young goalkeeper and playing men’s football at that time was exactly what I needed.

“Playing in youth football is good but men’s football is different. It challenges you because you know just how much is at stake each Saturday when you are playing for a first team.

“It matters so much to the fans and to the club as a whole.

“With David De Gea being the number one goalkeeper at United, I knew that going on loan would be an important tool in my development.”

You joined Heart of Midlothian of the Scottish Premiership on loan in 2019. How did you adapt to life in Scotland and how do you reflect on your time at the club?

“I love Scotland to be honest. Edinburgh is an amazing city and the club was fantastic.

“The Hearts fans create an incredible atmosphere and Tynecastle is a great ground to play football at.

“The away grounds in Scotland also had top atmospheres. That is one thing that sticks out from my time there.

“Unfortunately, my year at Hearts was not the best year of my career. I did not play to my highest level and that is something that disappoints me to this day.

“My biggest regret is not being able to do more to help the club in a difficult season that saw us relegated from the league because Hearts is a fantastic club.

“Everyone working in and around the club was really nice and the fans deserved more. They deserved a different year from the team and from myself.”

I have to ask you, while living in Scotland, did you try any traditional Scottish foods like Haggis for example?

“Of course. I had to try it. The first time I tried it, I actually thought it was quite nice but I did not know what was in it. I was told it was traditionally Scottish but without being told how it was made.

“Then, once it was explained to me what was in haggis and how it was made which was a big shock (laughs).

“I did not try it again after that but it was nice during my time trying it even if it is different from the foods I am used to.”

At international level, you have represented Portugal across various youth levels up to under 21 level. You won best goalkeeper at the 2016 Toulon Tournament. How proud are you to have achieved such success with your national team?

“Representing Portugal makes me very proud. My memories of those times will live with me forever.

“The Toulon Tournament was special for me as you said but going to the Olympics with Portugal was also a special moment for me.

“The under 21 Euros were another top moment for me too. It was always an honour to represent my country.”

Last but not least, Joel, is your ultimate dream to one day represent the Portuguese national team at first-team level?

“For sure, that is my ultimate dream. I will never give up on that dream.

“Whatever has happened in the past is the past and I am focused on the future. You need to keep fighting as a footballer because you never know what the future may hold.

“Andries Noppert is an inspiration in that regard as he represented the Netherlands at the World Cup and made his debut at the tournament when many thought that may not necessarily be possible.

“His journey is proof that you should never give up or stop dreaming and I will certainly remain focused on achieving my goals and dreams in the future for club and country.”