By Tom Webber
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 gone from strength to strength.
A hat-trick against Arsenal de Sarandi in the Copa Libertadores this week was the crowning moment of an extremely successful 12 months, that have seen the midfielder put himself in contention for a spot in the Brazil squad for World Cup 2014.
As a youngster, Bernard was turned away by his local club Atletico Mineiro 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, a 17-year-old Bernard 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.
Blessed with electric speed, a direct running style and razor-sharp agility, the 20-year-old possesses the ability to burst through the smallest of gaps at frightening speed, attributes that have worried countless Brazilian defences.
MIDFIELDER | ATLETICO MINEIRO
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.
Over the course of last season, Bernard's development was nothing less than extraordinary. In 36 starts he accumulated an impressive 11 goals and 11 assists and was subsequently selected to represent the Selecao in the Superclasico de las Americas competition against Argentina. Attention from European clubs soon followed, but a bid of €11.5 million from Russian outfit Terek Grozny was quickly turned down.
His form has been aided by the blossoming of a wonderful partnership with two-time World Player of the Year Ronaldinho. The pair combined superbly and in the wake of the Alvinegro's 3-0 win over Palmeiras in 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. Ronaldinho has turned over a new leaf since his arrival at the Independencia from Flamengo and Bernard revealed to Lance!net the benefit of having such a player at the club: "He has great handling of the ball, speed and a better touch. Whether in practice or in the game, I try to observe everything he does. Ronaldinho has been instrumental in my growth."
However, his enthusiasm and passion for the game, something that is enhanced by representing the club that he supports, can have a tendency to spill over and result in a questionable temperament. Such petulance may largely be down to his youth and is certainly something that can be tapered over the course of time with the correct management.
|"It is a pleasure to share in the moment when another star is born"
Galo's championship march ultimately failed to end in success, but a second-place finish was enough to secure a return to Copa Libertadores action.
On Tuesday evening, Bernard set the competition alight as he netted a hat-trick in the 5-2 win away to Arsenal de Sarandi.
After going behind within two minutes, he latched onto an exquisite Ronaldinho pass to volley in the equaliser. His team raced ahead, but the game was very much in the balance with the score 3-2 at half-time. After the break, the 20-year-old showed his tenacity, hounding the defence and forcing an error which he then capitalised on with an emphatic finish into the roof of the net. His hat-trick was completed five minutes later with a simple tap in, as he displayed his goalscoring instinct to follow up from Jo's initial shot.
Bernard has announced himself to the South American public, and Atletico Mineiro boss Cuca revealed that Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has spoken to him about the youngster ahead of next year's World Cup: "He has already asked me about Bernard, it is a project that he has. If not now, then after, without a doubt," he told Lance!net. It is a testament to his progression that a coach who has openly declared his preference for experience would consider him for such an important tournament.
Performances of a similar nature will no doubt alert the big names of European football to come calling. It would perhaps be unwise to make that move if his aspirations of participating in the World Cup are to come to fruition, but if he remains on the same path then there is nothing to stop him from participating on the greatest stage of all in 2014.