By Tom Webber | Brazil Expert
Failure is not an option for Bernard. He refused to let his diminutive stature stop him from realising his dream of playing professional football and after overcoming some early rejections, the young Brazilian has propelled himself onto the international stage.
Alongside the likes of Ronaldinho and Jo, Bernard scored 11 goals and provided 11 assists as Atletico Mineiro went from relegation candidates in 2011 to title contenders in the space of 12 months. Having carried that form into this year, the 20-year-old earned a spot in Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil squad for the Confederations Cup ahead of his two-time World Player of the Year-winning team-mate.
The Selecao boss revealed that the "enthusiasm" of youth was behind that decision, and that is certainly something which the inexperienced attacking midfielder has in abundance. As a youngster, Bernard was turned away by his local club Atletico on two separate occasions as he was deemed too short by the club's coaching staff. He was unperturbed and after being invited back for another trial, the Belo Horizonte-born midfielder was finally signed by Galo at the tender age of 13.
In 2010, as a 17-year-old, he was loaned out to Minas Gerais second division outfit Democrata (SL) in search of first team football. He shone, dispelling worries over his physique that threatened to halt his career before it had even begun, as he netted 14 times to become the tournament's top scorer.
The midfielder, who measures up at five-foot-five-inches tall, had a brief spell in the first team for Atletico in 2011, but it was the following year that would provide his breakthrough season as the club launched an unexpected title challenge.
|BERNARD'S CAREER STATS
But there is so much more to Bernard than most other wide players. He has the ability to drift into spaces just behind the striker and exploit them to devastating effect with the conviction of an experienced playmaker. Whether it is a clinical finish, a killer through ball, or a pin-point cross from out wide, the youngster can do it. When on song, he can win a game all on his own.
His ascencion to the Canarinha has no doubt been aided by the blossoming of a wonderful partnership with Ronaldinho. The former Barcelona icon was only expected to have a negative impact in Belo Horizonte following his acrimonious split from Flamengo, but his influence has been nothing but the opposite.
The pair combine superbly and in the wake of the Alvinegro's 3-0 win over Palmeiras last September, in which Bernard netted a double, Ronaldinho hailed the emergence of a bright new prospect: "He is a big talent. It's a pleasure to share in the moment when another star is born. I am happy and I hope he continues in this manner for many, many years."
The respect was mutual and the 20-year-old has clearly stated the benefit of having such a player at the club: "Whether in practice or in the game, I try to observe everything he does. Ronaldinho has been instrumental in my growth." A willingness to learn can go a long way, and the chance to be taught by one of the best in the business has not been squandered. Despite being displaced in the national team by his prodigy, Ronaldinho has remained unequivocally supportive.
A second place finish in the 2012 Brasileiro ensured qualification for the Copa Libertadores for Galo after a 12-year absence from the competition. That offered Bernard a new stage upon which to showcase his talents, and he seized the opportunity with both hands. A hat-trick in the 5-2 win away to Arsenal de Sarandi in the group stages was his defining moment. Since then interest has been rife with Porto, Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham all linked with the 20-year-old's signature, and a transfer to Europe may not be far away.
His inclusion in the current Brazil squad has only served to intensify the speculation surrounding his future. Having been put in the same league as Neymar, Lucas Moura and Oscar that is unsurprising. Bernard does not have the flair or marketing power of the new Barcelona signing, nor has he had to cope with the immense responsibilities heaped on the former Santos player's shoulders at club and international level. At Atletico he has been insulated from such burdens and this could be a worry for potential suitors. And while he may still be a bit raw, it is the ceaseless ambition and irrepressible drive to succeed despite his stature that makes the Galoyoungster so exciting.
|"It is a pleasure to share in the moment when another star is born"
Indeed, his young international team-mates have all had concerns over their physique raised before venturing across the Atlantic Ocean and it will be no different for the Belo Horizonte-born starlet. However, his mentality suggests that he would be adaptable to the European game in the same way that Oscar has proven at Chelsea. If he can match the speed of the former Internacional man's transition then Bernard, too, can become one of Brazil's mainstays for years to come and an international superstar.
When challenged to raise his game the 20-year-old has proven capable. If Bernard can retain his unrelenting desire to improve and succeed he will surely get the opportunity to showcase his unbounded ability on the greatest stage of all: the World Cup in 2014.