Foot on the Gas: Pereiro Promises to Shine

Primed against the defensive trio of Mitchell Dijks, Jaïro Riedewald and Joël Veltman, and with tackles flying in from all directions, the dark-blue-shirted attacker holds his ground and bursts through to blast the ball past a hapless Jasper Cillessen in the Ajax goal. The grinning face of Alvaro Recoba on the youngster’s right hand was a great representation of the glee felt by all PSV supporters in the stadium. Just 6 minutes into his first ever start for the club, Gaston Pereiro was already drawing gasps of wonder from spectators.

Rewind 11 months and Pereiro is already hot property in his homeland. Ahead of the South American U20 Championships in early 2015, pundit Tim Vickery noted that Pereiro ‘has even struck some as a left-footed Uruguayan version of Socrates’ – a remarkable parallel to be made for a player so young. Pereiro, donning the iconic No. 10, ended the tournament as the second highest goalscorer with 5, and continued impressing at the U20 World Cup too, when he netted the winner against eventual-winners Serbia in Uruguay’s tournament opener.

The summer for Pereiro was also replete with a signing soap opera as final hiccups threatened to throw his move to PSV off course, with his agents relentless in their demands for more money. This ransom attempt came at the very last minute, after Pereiro had already landed in Eindhoven and had informed his friends and family after PSV recruited the likes of the legendary Ruud van Nistelrooy and even Luis Suarez to convince the youngster to move to the Netherlands. Eventually, PSV stood firm and completed the transfer without further hassle; the only extra payment they agreed to make was to send away the taxi that the agents had waiting for Pereiro.

PSV scouts have historically had a favourable record with South American youngsters and he sheer magnitude of effort they have spent in securing Pereiro is definitely an encouraging sign of the 20-year-old’s potential, especially when PSV could have gone for a safer option in buying Steven Berghuis from AZ instead. PSV scouts, among other clubs including the likes of FC Groningen, have been following Pereiro since the then-teenager broke out on to the scene at Nacional in 2014. He rose extremely quickly from a wet-behind-the-ears youngster to one of Nacional’s most glittering  players as they marched toward a league title.

Pereiro’s excitement and enthusiasm to don the red-and-white of the Eindhovenaren was quickly established as he promised to immediately find his feet. “I wanted very much to come to this club and am going to give everything I have in me,” he said upon his arrival. Naturally however, his initial outings for PSV came off the bench; he never played more than 30 minutes in the league until October. Even though Pereiro inherited Memphis Depay’s No.7 shirt, it was fellow summer signing Maxime Lestienne who was preferred on the left wing, while Luciano Narsingh took up Pereiro’s favoured position on the right.

Patience is a virtue, however, and on arguably the biggest stage in the league –  against Ajax at the Amsterdam ArenA – Pereiro got his chance. The build-up to the match saw Maxime Lestienne granted special leave by PSV to rush back to Belgium to be with his family following the death of his mother, while captain Luuk de Jong was ruled out with a malleolar injury. Had Lestienne been the only absence, Cocu may have opted to play Jürgen Locadia on the left and leave Pereiro on the bench again. But every cloud has a silver lining — or as Johan Cruijff would say: ‘Every disadvantage has an advantage’ — and the injury to De Jong forced Cocu to put the Uruguayan in the first team.

It only took Pereiro six minutes to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Receiving a pass from Pröpper just outside the box, he thought one move ahead of the Ajax defenders, and played a neat one-two with Locadia before holding his ground to scoop the ball over Cillessen; 1-0 to PSV. Ajax equalised soon after, but Pereiro was a constant threat. He raced back to make a tackle on Riedewald in the 41st minute, starting a counterattack that found its way to Locadia, though the 21-year-old’s effort on goal was thwarted by Veltman. The young Uruguayan was found to be in intelligent positions throughout the match to continue the flow of the ball and PSV’s play. In the 78th minute, he found himself on the end of a through ball by Hendrix. Just one feint to the left, onto his left foot and Riedewald was fooled, allowing Pereiro to pick his spot and bury the ball behind the Ajax keeper once more. PSV were seen as second favourites heading into the game against the league leaders, but Pereiro provided everything they needed to pick up three well deserved points.

He earned a starting place for the next match against Excelsior but was once again relegated to the bench against FC Twente as the speedier Narsingh was preferred in the right flank. However, it was Pereiro who sealed the victory in Enschede as he came on to chest down and volley home a Locadia cross. He continued to impress with substitute appearances, scoring the final goal in a freak 3-6 result at De Graafschap.

Following that, he changed the game for PSV against FC Utrecht. With the game deadlocked at 1-1, Cocu brought on Pereiro and within minutees of coming on, he displayed his best qualities of good positioning and vision. He floated in from the flank to an almost striker-like position, drawing defenders toward him and away from right-back Santiago Arias, who found himself on the end of Pereiro’s neat pass and scored. Later in the game from a much deeper position, Pereiro sent a beautiful overhead pass to Locadia on the left, who set up Luuk de Jong to make it 3-1 and give PSV all three points.

With Narsingh injured, Pereiro has recently found himself as the first-choice starter for Philip Cocu as right winger and against AZ he provided a sneak peek into the kind of football he can achieve in his favoured position. For the final goal in a 3-0 drubbing, Pereiro received the ball around 40 yards from goal and near the touchline. Caressing the ball down with a deft touch, he then embarked on a brilliant persistent dribble down all the way to the goal line, showing lovely guile and close control, before serving up a pinpoint cross to the feet of De Jong, who merely had to touch it to guide it goal-wards.

In PSV’s final game of 2015 on Sunday, Pereiro put some of his best qualities on show again; timing his run just right to tap-in Locadia’s cross and then, cutely twisting past Trent Sainsbury in a flash of a second after receiving Pröpper’s pass, to secure his double.

It is important not to overstate the potential of the young South American as he is still rough diamond and has various flaws in his game to iron out. Many critics, including his manager, have pointed out that while Pereiro has the ability to really impact a game, he can also go missing or be invisible for large parts of the game. He does not seem to be blessed with a great deal of pace and nor is he an incredibly hard runner in the game, still needing great improvement in his stamina; some fear that he could end up in Gaston Ramirez’s predicament if he does not work on his inadequacies.

But for the most part, Pereiro has been a joy to watch when on song; his countenance full of a boyish charm and enthusiasm as the stubbled trickster slaloms sleekly past opponents, leaving them momentarily confounded (Wayne Rooney may be able to testify). What Pereiro lacks in speed, he makes up for in sheer skill. Not just dribbling, but his vision on the pitch and spatial awareness in support of his teammates have all enthralled spectators. He is extremely quick to claim that Luis Suarez is his idol, but his style of play is more of a playmaker, floating across the width of the pitch and indeed, also with a good knack for goals through intelligent positioning. There is a hint of Juan Mata or Robin van Persie in his early days about him. With a good height and physical build in the mix too, Pereiro has the raw ingredients required to concoct a successful player in the Eredivisie and if his progress continues to be on track, he is likely to rise as one of the Eredivisie’s outright best players and attackers within a season or two.

In an interview in Voetbal International, Pereiro gushed: “I’m living my dream. Right from the beginning, I feel welcome at PSV. I love the tranquility here. In Uruguay I played for Nacional; when I walk down the street in Montevideo, chances are that I will get verbally abused or assaulted by fans of rival club Peñarol. Here it does not happen, the people are more relaxed. Very nice.”

In addition, he also shed light on the mentalidad ganadora of players from South America, the kind of winning mentality that saw the likes of Luis Suarez reach the top, and which young Gaston professes to have: “I always wanted to win. In everything. Whether it was at school, in card games or marbles: I want to be the best. That’s just in me.”

This quote could have been attributed to the PSV No.7 from last season and we would not have noticed, this only bodes well for the young Uruguayan. Armed with this kind of mentality and transplanted into a great learning environment in Eindhoven, the future looks bright for the elegant and exciting Gaston Pereiro as he aims to be the next wing wizard from PSV to pulverise opponents.

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