James Burn provides some insight on Bernard – Arsenal’s latest transfer target. You can follow James on Twitter @JamesBurn89
From the Street to Estadio Independência
This 20 year old from the city of Belo Horizonte in the south eastern state of Brazil’s Minais Gerais, has risen to prominence over the last year, playing a pivotal role in the flourishing new Libertadores champions Atlético Mineiro. It is not easy to stand out in a team which contains Ronaldinho, but Bernard Anício Caldeira Duarte, has done just that.
Bernard was born in September 1992 in his current home town Belo Horizonte. He grew up playing football on the streets like many Brazilian children, and was eventually spotted by local club Comercial EC do Barreiro. He spent roughly 9 years there before being spotted by Atlético Mineiro (Galo) at the age of 14. Despite being vastly talented, Bernard was dismissed as being too slight and too short to make it at Galo. Youth team coaches were indecisive in deciding what to do with ‘pouco’ (little) Bernard, sending him away twice and then calling him back. He also underwent a course of human growth hormone treatment (ring any bells?) which helped to some extent.
4 years passed with Bernard continuing to impress the youth coaches at Galo, before he was given his first chance at first team football being sent on loan to feeder club Democrata Futebol Clube. Democrata played in the Minais Gerais state championship like Galo, but in the second division. The spell could not have gone better, he returned to Galo after netting a cool 14 goals in 16 appearances. He was finally ready to get his chance at the big time, and current Galo head coach Dorival Junior called him up to the 1st team at the age of 18, all 5ft 4 inches of him.
Bernard’s debut was not as memorable as he had hoped, due to an injury crisis he played at right back in a state championship fixture against Uberaba Sport Clube. Bernard slipped back into the youth teams and continued to succeed where the first team was not. Dorival Junior lost his position as head coach and was replaced with Alexi Stival, known as Cuca from local rivals Cruzeiro where he had won the Campeonato Mineiro (State Championship) the same year. Cuca immediately gave Bernard chances, notably not at right back. He went on to make 19 appearances in the Brasileirão, obtaining 4 assists and attracting a bid of £3.4m from Qatari club Al Ahli which was rejected by president Alexandre Kalil.
2012 was Bernard’s breakthrough year, Galo took advantage of Ronaldinho’s unpaid wages at Flamengo to snap him up and together him and Bernard formed a devastating partnership. He made 36 appearances bagging 11 goals and 12 assists in the Brasileirão. His electric pace, capable of finishing with either left or right foot as well as wicked delivery from the left or right flank, enabled the mercurial talent of Ronaldinho to complement him perfectly. The main characteristics of his play was his ability to evade his markers by drifting in off either flank (primarily the left), playing neat one touch passing and getting in behind defenders. One of his main strengths is his strength in both feet. He plays with as much vigour and eccentricity when performing defensive duties for the team, pressing high up the pitch and tracking back. Bernard won the title of ‘Revelation of the Brasileirão that year and was even called up by Brazil coach Mano Menezes to feature in the Superclasico de las Americas against Argentina, a traditional 2 legged friendly match between the big rivals. Safe to say it’s not that friendly!<a
So Bernard’s name was becoming household in Brazil and another bid from Spartak Moscow (£9.8m) was turned away in December 2012. Atlético Mineiro was Bernard’s local club and he would now have a chance to challenge with them in the Copa Libertadores after propelling them to 2nd in the Brasileirão behind Fred inspired champions Fluminense.
Current Transfer Situation and the future
Bernard is in a similar situation to a number of talented players in the country in that part of his economic rights (rumoured to be 10%) are owned by the Bank of Minais Gerais (BMG bank). This has led to many links with Portuguese giants Porto, who have formed strong links with the bank in order to gain a foothold in the ever inflating Brazilian market. BMG sponsor the football museum at the Estádio do Dragão (Porto’s stadium) and have already help them acquire players such as Alex Sandro and Danilo previously of Santos (also sponsored by BMG).
After winning the Libertadores, an emotional Bernard was resigned to leaving but evidently wanted to stay at his hometown club:
“If I could, I would stay here the rest of my life. I do not know if I will stay or not, it is up to God and the board to decide. There are proposals from English football, Shakhtar & Porto. I will continue working until the board set something about the sale.”
These quotes evidently outline that there are forces at work behind the scenes which are forcing Bernard’s hand in the fact he has to move. BMG would ideally like there ‘asset’ to move to Porto, where his talent will undoubtedly put him in closer proximity to Europe’s super clubs with him taking part in the UEFA Champions League and his value will increase. Of course the player has a huge say in his destination, but it would be an inconvenience for the bank if he picked to go to Arsenal. The English Premier League has rules against 3rd party ownership, and the North London club would have to buy 100% of his economic rights. The sale is further facilitated by the ever increasing debt of Atlético Mineiro, which currently stands at R$414m debt (£119.66m), although the Libertadores triumph and participation in the Club World Cup should ease the number to some extent.
So where will this diminutive highly talented Brazilian end up? The rumored clubs so far are Tottenham, Liverpool, Porto, Borussia Dortmund, Shakhtar and most recently Arsenal. The fact that Bernard quoted on June 21st of this year after speaking to International teammate Hulk about Porto:
“When they talked about Porto (Transfer rumours), the first name that came to mind was Hulk, who succeeded there. I talked with him so that he could tell me everything about the club. He told me that it is a big and very well run club. He said wonderful things about them. It’s difficult to say I have a preference for Porto – because of the language, customs or club history – as the European transfer window is open at the moment and the other clubs I have been linked with are good too. I prefer to say that I have no preference, but Porto are a very good club, with a great structure and are always in the Champions League. I am proud to be linked to a club like that.”
On the one side, this shows that Porto are probably the leading candidates for his signature but on the other it dismisses teams that are not in the Champions League. This brings us swiftly on to Arsenal who have been heavily linked. Well connected Brazilian journalist Guilherme Guimarães of ‘O Tempo’ revealed that “Arsenal lead the race for Bernard and are favorites among other clubs. But the deal is not completed yet.” It also went on to say that Bernard is an admirer of Arsenal’s style of football. So it appears to be a 2 horse race.
Wherever the little magician ends up, he has the capability to be a real star. The best destination for him is probably Porto as he would be guaranteed game time and would replace departed Colombian winger James Rodriguez (now of Monaco). In what is also a World Cup year, Bernard will want to get game time and impress. It is unlikely however that he is able to force himself into the starting XI for Brazil 14. Hulk appears to be in favour on the right side of the attacking 3, and it would Paris Saint Germain’s Lucas Moura (ex- São Paulo) who would come in for the recently disappointing Hulk. This may mean Arsenal could also be a good destination for him, and Arsene Wenger has a fantastic record of nurturing young talent, and who’s to say Gilberto Silva (currently at Atlético Mineiro) hasn’t recommended the Gunners to Bernard.
Bernard will be playing football at a Champions League club next season and his future will be decided in the coming days. Atlético Mineiro director Eduardo Maluf even declared at the time of writing that: “He is a major player, but if a team offers €25m, we’ll sell.” I personally can’t wait to see how this baby faced boy from Brazil develops. It is safe to say there will be tricks, flicks, goals and electric acceleration along the way, and his burning passion for football will overcome the stigma of his stature…. a la Messi.