Craig Levein is hoping that all his Christmases have come at once after Manchester United stepped in to alleviate his goalkeeping woes by lending Hearts Joel Pereira.
The Tynecastle manager says he had not anticipated adding a new goalkeeper to this season’s wishlist but an unconvincing, skittish start to the campaign by number one choice Zdenek “Bobby” Zlamal forced a rethink.
“Bobby has suffered the last little while,” explained Levein. “I felt that he made a few mistakes last season and he has had one of those pre-seasons and early games where things have not gone his way. He is an older experienced goalkeeper but it is a s*** game at times and it can affect you and get into your head.
“His decision making has been off and that hasn’t helped the group and it is such a critical position. He is a brilliant guy but I just feel that he had to come out of the team.
“I just felt that I wanted to bring in somebody who could go in immediately and calm everybody down and make them feel relaxed defensively which is important.”
The answer was gifted to him by the Old Trafford club, who have been in regular contact since sending Demi Mitchell to gain first-team experience at Tynecastle
“Virtually the same moment I was thinking about all of these things I got a call from Manchester United asking if I was needing anything,” said Levein. “It is almost like Santa Claus phoning you and asking: ‘what are you are wanting?’ ”
While United decided to hold on to David de Gea, 23-year-old keeper Pereira does come highly recommended.
“We know we are not getting a goalie from Man U who has played in the first team regularly so there is an element of risk in it,” said Levein. “But he is well regarded and everybody I have spoken to says he possesses the right character to do well. I made a lot of phone calls to people at Man U who know the boy himself and everything that came back was hugely positive.
“He has trained really well and the fact there has been a change sometimes lightens people’s mood and that is one thing we needed to do after last Saturday. It has lightened my mood!”
The Portugal Under-21 cap, who has been on United’s books since he was recruited by Sir Alex Ferguson as a 15-year-old, will go straight into the starting line-up for tonight’s Betfred Cup tie away to Motherwell and while he may not be De Gea, the Swiss-born keeper says the years spent training with one of the world’s best has made him a better goalie.
“Not many people get to train with the best goalkeeper in the world,” said Pereira. “They are all world-class goalkeepers at United and to be able to train with them every day is fantastic. And David is, for me, at the top of the world. To have the chance to see him and train with him every day is fantastic for me. I enjoyed every single moment of it. In training, he does the same things you see on TV. He makes fantastic saves all the time. He is so calm that it sometimes looks like he sees the ball in slow motion! He’s also a very good guy who works well, then puts his quality into games.”
The Spaniard tweeted his best wishes when Pereira’s move north was confirmed.
“Enjoy the experience and prove how good you are bro!” he said. The Hearts newcomer responded by thanking his “big bro” and stating he would.
“We are very close and very good friends,” explained Pereira. “He has helped me a lot in the last couple of years. Also [other United keepers] Sergio Romero and Lee Grant, it’s been fantastic. They have all been great with me. Maybe when I make a little mistake they try to encourage me and they definitely have made me a better goalkeeper. I’ve learned a lot from them.
“It was a nice message De Gea sent me on Twitter and hopefully I can do what he said. We have a very good relationship and we will definitely keep in touch.
“When I’ve been on loan previously, we always phoned each other. Maybe once a week, I call him or he calls me. He gives me lots of advice, especially when I train with him – not just him but the other keepers. They’ve always been there to help me.”
A player who says he is comfortable with the ball at his feet, enjoys coming out to deal with crosses, and is a decent shot-stopper, Levein is now hoping Pereira is there for him.