Pellistri spells out his top aim for 2021
Facundo Pellistri has one clear ambition for 2021 and hopes it is a wish that can soon come true at Manchester United.
The Uruguayan youngster dreams of making his senior debut for the club he joined on transfer deadline day from Penarol in his homeland. He has carefully been integrated into the set-up with his new club, enjoying game-time with the Under-23s and training with the first team over the festive period, under the watchful eye of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has helped him settle in.
Of course, there are others - Edinson Cavani, a fellow countryman, has been a big help and Pellistri's colleagues in the Under-23s have also made the 19-year-old feel welcomed. And do not underestimate the determination of this teenager far from home at a time when a pandemic is disrupting life across the globe.
His grasp of English is markedly superior to when he conducted his first interview upon arriving in Manchester. This is a young man with a will to succeed.
After playing in the bruising Uruguayan league at such a tender age, there is the sort of steel to his character that you would expect from a South American. He accepts there is a certain bravery, bravado almost, about his play because his style is to take the ball and run at defenders. It encourages challenges and Premier League 2 has been no different in this respect, at least allowing him to illustrate that he will not be knocked out of his stride or intimidated.
'Pelli', as he is known to his team-mates, spoke to us just before Christmas and was clearly feeling comfortable in his new surroundings.
"I'm settled here," he said. "Thanks to my team-mates and obviously my family from Uruguay, I am now feeling at home in this country, which is all new to me. Most of the South American team-mates are the ones who I am more close to but, obviously, I am all fine with everyone. Every team-mate here is very kind - in the first team, and also the Under-23s who I started playing with. I have met lots of guys who were very nice with me and that is very important.
"People had told me about the weather here and that was the most important thing I've found here," he smiled. "Unfortunately, while we have this COVID situation, I cannot go away to most parts of England but, hopefully when these [restrictions] end, I can go. I took English lessons in school in Uruguay but I am learning more here in England.
“It is amazing here. From day one, being here, when I entered the buildings at the training centre, everything is very big compared to Uruguay. That is a very important thing as Manchester is one of the biggest clubs in the world. So I am very happy being here.
“It's been amazing to train with guys like Rashford, Pogba, Mata and Edi, who is very close friends with me. It's amazing for me because I watched them on TV and now I am practising with them. The intensity, the high quality they have, it's great for me to play with them and I improve a lot. All the time, I speak with Edi and he is a very nice person. He is always trying to be around me, giving me advice and everything that I need. He is there to help me and that is very important for me. I am very happy with that.
“I know he is one of the best players in the world, and one of the all-time best players from Uruguay, but he is also a very nice person."
So much for off-the-field but how about on it, where his performances have caught the eye with Neil Wood's Under-23s. He had a run of scoring in three successive games and some classic wing-play created a headed goal for Shola Shoretire against Tottenham in Premier League 2.
Yet there is more to Pellistri's game and he has played in different positions across the midfield and attack already as Wood helps to educate the youngster. He is not merely a winger who runs and crosses the ball into the box, despite that assist in the Spurs game.
"I'd already played first-team football with Penarol," he told us. "Obviously, that experience gave me a lot at the time I came here. I am more used to playing with older men than those my age and that experience at Penarol helped me a lot.
“One of the biggest differences for me is the intensity of the football. Maybe it can be because the pitches here are different from the pitches there [in Uruguay]. They are much slower and it is more difficult to get past the defenders. They are deeper on the pitch and the football is slower. It is much more difficult for players who are fast. Here, the intensity is so high, it's much easier to run fast to get into the box and the pitches are faster so it is a better difference that I have found here.
“I really like to be in contact with the ball. I am a fast player but I am improving on how to run into the space, not with the ball but without the ball. That's the main thing I am improving. As I said, I really like to be in contact with the ball, and make passes and assists. I always like to be on the ball and going past defenders is a thing I have been doing since I was a child. It is the main thing I am best at.
“I have been a target [for tackles] since I was little so I am used to that. It has always been that my legs get hurt a bit but it's normal for someone who likes to dribble at the defenders so I am used to that. In Uruguay, they do a lot of tackles but also here, in the first game I played for the Under-23s, I received a lot of tackles. In England, as in Uruguay, there are tackles everywhere and it doesn't matter about the place.
“The intensity in the Under-23s matches is very high and the tackles are very strong but it is very good football so I am happy to be doing it. For any football player, the most important thing is to get game-time and I am getting that so I am happy."
At a time for brief reflection and looking forward to the new year, Pellistri was clear in his aims and approaching everything with optimism and enthusiasm.
"I am feeling like it is home," he said. "I have been here a few months and am getting used to this. I am happy here. It is going to be a different Christmas because we train and we play so it's different for me. I was used to being free with no training and nothing at this time of the year. I am far from my home but luckily have my family here. It's not the same but it will be a different Christmas and hopefully a good one.
“It’s been a very strange year for the world obviously and for me, obviously, with the COVID and being here in Manchester – one of the biggest changes in my life – and I am very happy with that.
“It was fantastic [being a substitute for the PSG game earlier this season]. It was a dream for me being on the bench in the Champions League and also in such an important match as it was against Paris, in Paris, and it was a dream for me, being there and watching all the top players that were on the pitch. We were having a lot of fun as, luckily, we won that game and it was a very, very good experience for me.
“Obviously, it's very nice to hear that the manager speaks about you [as Ole has during his press conferences] and I am in contact with him all the time. He is giving me advice and asking me how I am doing and how I am feeling. That, for me, is very important and I am really thankful to him.
“For me, it’s going to be a dream to have a chance in the first team and to fight for a place. And that Manchester United are going to the top. That is my biggest dream.
“Yes, that it what I am working on [getting a debut] and, hopefully, I am going to have it."
With cup clashes against Manchester City and Watford taking place over the coming week, who knows if his dream could be realised very soon in 2021? Hopefully, it will only be a matter of time for this impressive youngster, who has clearly worked hard at his integration and is on course for realising his great potential.