Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is watching Hearts after club told Joel Pereira to choose Tynecastle

Manchester United told Joel Pereira Hearts was the best of several loan options in August. The Swiss-born goalkeeper discussed his future with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and has not been disappointed with the choice made.

By Barry Anderson
Friday, 4th October 2019, 7:00 am
Updated Saturday, 5th October 2019, 2:49 am
Joel Pereira is enjoying his loan spell at Hearts. Pic: SNS
Joel Pereira is enjoying his loan spell at Hearts. Pic: SNS

Nicknamed ‘El Gato’, meaning ‘The Cat’, Pereira recorded his first clean sheet in his fifth Hearts appearance last week at St Mirren. He wants a repeat shutout against Kilmarnock tomorrow. Long-term, he hopes to persuade United he has the capabilities to play in their first team. He feels Tynecastle Park is the ideal place to stake that claim.

“I spoke with the goalkeeping coaches, Richard Hartis and Emilio Alvarez. I also had a chat with Ole and his assistants. We had a look at all the options and they told me Hearts was the best one for me. The timing was good for my development so I decided to come here,” said Pereira, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.

“I had a chat with Ole and he wished me good luck. He said they would be watching my games for Hearts and looking forward to seeing me play. I had a chat with him during the pre-season so I knew I would be going on loan somewhere. I was looking for the right club to go on loan and Hearts came up. We decided that was best.

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“The best thing for my development was going to a club where I could play every week. I am very grateful to Hearts for giving me this opportunity. I am trying to repay them by giving my best.

“I am enjoying the atmosphere a lot. The fans are brilliant. We have been playing in full stadiums, playing at Celtic Park was a great experience, and at home the fans are amazing. They live for football and it’s great. This is what I was needing for the next step in my career.”

What may happen post-Hearts is purely guesswork at this stage. At least Pereira, 23, has a clear idea in his mind of what he wants to achieve.

“My focus is to play every week for Hearts so I am working hard every day for training and games,” he stated. “Hopefully great things will come. My main goal is to go back to United stronger, better and more confident. I will have another chat with the coaches there, with Ole and the board, and see what is the next step. This is a decision between the club and myself.”

A successful campaign in Scotland would do him no harm as tries to work his way up from fourth in the goalkeeping queue. Spanish internationalist David de Gea and the 96-cap Argentinian Sergio Romero are both ahead of Pereira. The Englishman Dean Henderson, currently on loan at Sheffield United, is regarded as the club’s third choice.

Pereira is nothing if not a popular figure in Manchester, though. It was United staff and players who had a major influence in ensuring the ‘El Gato’ moniker took hold when he arrived in England. Pereira was first labelled ‘El Gato’ by a youth coach at the age of ten back home in Switzerland. He moved to Old Trafford at the age of 16.

“I had all my gloves printed with ‘El Gato’. Juan Mata saw my gloves and started to call me ‘El Gato’ and since then everyone uses that nickname, even the managers. They all call me this at United,” he explained with a fair degree of pride in his voice.

Hearts have also quoted the nickname through their social media channels. There is no question the last three results will have helped Pereira win favour with supporters as Hearts beat Hibs and Aberdeen prior to his first shutout last weekend. He is, to all intents and purposes, still finding his feet in Scotland after an unexpected thigh injury.

“I was very anxious to start when I first came here,” he said. “To pick up an injury after two games was not what I wanted. Now I am back and fit and I am very happy to be back in the team. We got two very good wins and a draw since I came back so I am pleased to help the team.”

He also understands the pressures and clamour for points after a disappointing start to the Ladbrokes Premiership campaign. Pereira was recruited after Hearts’ Czech goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal began the season uneasily. Colin Doyle remains back-up but the Manchester United man has established himself as the new No.1 under manager Craig Levein.

“The team needs to get some points and I am here to help. I was very pleased with the clean sheet last week but we did not get the three points,” lamented Pereira. “I would definitely have preferred to concede one goal and score two because the team winning is what really matters. The team is more important.

“It is always good for a goalkeeper to get clean sheets and that was my first of the season. It feels good. I hope there will be a lot more to come, with Hearts getting more points to get back to where we belong in the table.”