Bernard – The Boy from Brazil

James Burn provides some insight on Bernard – Arsenal’s latest transfer target. You can follow James on Twitter @JamesBurn89

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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.

Comercial EC do Barreiro club logo

Comercial EC do Barreiro club logo

Comercial EC do Barreiro training facilities

Comercial EC do Barreiro training facilities

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!

Bernard with key teammate Ronaldinho

Bernard with key teammate Ronaldinho

Bernard receiving the 2012 Brasileirão Revelation of the year

Bernard receiving the 2012 Brasileirão Revelation of the year

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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

Will BMG Bank push him to Porto?

Will BMG Bank push him to Porto?

Or will he decide to take the advice of former Arsenal man Gilberto Silva?

Or will he decide to take the advice of former Arsenal man Gilberto Silva?

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.

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Aaron Ramsey: The quiet man set for a big season

Apologies for the lack of blogging of late. Reece seems to have just vanished, Will has been busy and I…am not quite sure what’s stopped me. Let’s blame exams. Or Aaron Ramsey. Speaking of whom, we have a special guest post on our dynamic Welshman from a certain Barnaby Merrill, whose voice I’m sure you’ll all recall from our end-of-season podcast (which hasn’t been put on the site yet, sorry). Anyway, you can follow him on Twitter @BRTMerrill. You won’t regret it. Hopefully. Take it away, Barnaby…

As pre-season boredom sets in among football fans everywhere, the conversation turns from analysing the previous campaign in punishing detail, to looking towards the next season. Transfer targets are weighed up against current members of the lineup (often using the discussions about the last season as evidence), and people build their ideal first XI for the coming season.

As part of this, people will dissect the abilities and contributions of various members of their sides, whether that be reliable defenders losing pace or exciting new attackers who deserve a starting berth. For Arsenal fans, the most frequently discussed players include Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, and Theo Walcott. Players like Marouane Fellaini and Gonzalo Higuain are edited into the first team, thanks to press speculation. As a result of the focus on certain members of the squad, others are roundly ignored.

Like Aaron Ramsey.

Under the radar

The Welshman was the subject of furious debate coming into the 2012/13 campaign, and well into the middle of it too. His poor form in the number 10 role, followed by a seemingly bizarre placement on the right wing, led many to label him not good enough for Arsenal, in need of a loan elsewhere in the Premier League, or perhaps in need of being offloaded.
I won’t go over his injury debacle, or the death of Gary Speed that affected him so much. This is about what Ramsey did to answer those doubters. To escape the spotlight, he disappeared.

Around February, Arsene Wenger began to deploy Ramsey in his favoured central midfield position. As either a deep-lying defensive player in the Mikel Arteta mould, or in the more aggressive berth next to him, Ramsey had an unsung but huge effect on Arsenal’s season run-in.

He eliminated his poor decision-making and tendency to dwell on the ball, completing 93% of passes when used as the pivote, and continued to create chances at a rate of two per game, impressive considering his deeper positioning. Ramsey has made himself a master of the little things, the abilities that are ignored in favour of 30-yard screamers or defence-splitting passes.

Engine

After his successful time replacing Arteta, the Spaniard returned and Ramsey rotated with Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby for the volante (box to box) position, often being left out in favour of the Frenchman Diaby. However, injuries to both Wilshere and Diaby gave Ramsey the chance to establish himself in the starting XI, and he took it, not with aplomb, but with quiet efficiency.

To say he works hard is an understatement. In the 11 games he played after the great upheaval that was the derby defeat against Spurs, Ramsey could be found shielding the back four, helping out Bacary Sagna on the right flank, and arriving in the box to help out with attacks. He has become the embodiment of the box-to-box midfielder so prized in European football, that has made players like Javi Martinez, Arturo Vidal and Sami Khedira so prized.

That’s not to say Ramsey is quite at that level yet. He still has much to prove (rather more to some than others), but he’s not showing any signs of stalling. A quiet and professional personality off the pitch as well as on, Ramsey remains focused on his job. He chose to travel to Kenya for his summer holidays, as opposed to Las Vegas like many of his Arsenal team-mates. While Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs lived it large in America, Ramsey helped impoverished Kenyan children discover the joys of football. He didn’t do this out of any obligation to the club, just because he wanted to.

This leaves me in no doubt that Ramsey will build on the great strides he has made this season. If rumours are true and Arsenal purchase a more physical midfielder, he may take Mikel Arteta’s disciplined role at the base of midfield, or operate in a double pivot, taking it in turns to hold and go forwards. Either way, I expect him to occupy a place in Arsenal’s midfield two for the conceivable future.

Progress

There are a few things Ramsey can build on next season. His passing, while not poor by any means, occasionally lacks incisiveness in the final third, though he does create chances at a rate comparable to a playmaker in a deeper position. His finishing also needs work; he gets into excellent positions yet fails to capitalise. It’s mainly his offensive work that must be improved, his abilities as a ‘defensive’ midfielder are pretty much perfect. Other than that, I feel he should become more of a voice within the dressing room. His calm professionalism is exactly what a title-winning team needs a lot of, and Ramsey has the stature to impart it. That’s not suggesting he’s some kind of muscle-bound LEADA, I mean he’s got enough of a position within the squad to make them listen. Though have you seen his abs lately? Dayum, boy.

I’m expecting huge things from Aaron Ramsey in the future. But those huge-things won’t be appreciated by many, because they’ll take them for granted. But when Nike seek you out, and add you to their “Engine” campaign, featuring such players as Xabi Alonso and the aforementioned Javi Martinez, you know you’ve got a special player on your hands.

We’ve wanted a dominant box-to-box force for years, who’d have though it’d be Aaron Ramsey?

The one where John Terry never leaves the dinner table

 

This week our intrepid podcasters battle through many obstacles as Will overcomes a slight cold to bring you another edition of the best podcast ever, [Disclaimer: That’s not a proven fact] while Tom overcomes dodgy wi-fi [hence those two being quieter than me for the last 15 minutes or so]. We talk about Arsenal. and football. Like we also do. Anyway, you can find the podcast here.

 

We also have a special guest, the legendary [used perhaps generously] Thomas Munson. We really enjoyed having him on and you can follow him @PossessionFooty on twitter. As always you can follow us @MASFBlog, while individually we’re @savagegooner and @gooner_tom.

The one without any ladyboys

This week sees Tom and I are joined by Willem Gonggrijp to talk about our late comeback against Norwich. We also touch on Dutch football, ladyboys, Carlos Vela and much more. I even manage to bring the Copa Libertadores! [kind of!] Here’s hoping you enjoy, you can find the podcast here.

You can follow Willem on twitter @BergkampFlick and you can find us @MASFBlog, with Tom and I at @gooner_tom and @savagegooner respectively.

Match Report: Arsenal 1-0 CSKA Moscow (NextGen Series)

Hi gang, Tom here again. It appears my Spanish-foot-fetish-sharing colleagues are too lazy busy to write anything so I thought I’d step up to the plate. Again.

Not for the first time, Arsenal’s Young Guns have got fans’ lips a-licking following a 1-0 victory over CSKA Moscow in the Next Gen Series at Emirates Stadium; booking a date with London rivals Chelsea in the semi-finals.

Over 6,000 gooners turned out in force to support the youth team in what was a game of high standard and high intensity. It did its best to warm fans who were sat shivering in sub-zero temperatures, ironically more suited to Moscow than London. Honestly, I can’t even remember the last time I was so cold – a £2 hot chocolate did little to bring back feeling to my fingers and toes.

Right, sorry, enough about me. Arsenal were dominant throughout the game; monopolising possession and creating plenty of chances. Much like the first-team, they were guilty of not being clinical enough but were defensively sound enough to make up for it by not giving their Russian counterparts a sniff.

A major reason for that was the excellence of Isaac Hayden at centre-half, who genuinely didn’t appear to put a foot wrong. Sead Hajrovic was sound as was Martin Angha at left-back (putting his infuriating refusal to use his left foot to one side) but it was Hayden who really caught the eye; combining aggression and composure to glorious effect. He certainly appears one to watch out for.

German teenager Serge Gnabry was always lively and had the first real opportunity of the game, fizzing a pass out to Hector Bellerin on the right, then continuing his run into the box and heading the Spaniard’s pinpoint cross into the arms of the keeper from close range when he really should have scored.

The midfield was relatively comfortable in controlling the game. Nico Yennaris, an experienced figurehead compared to some of his colleagues, captained the side and looked a cut above youth level in the middle of the park. A loan move will surely be on the cards for him next season. Alongside him Kris Olsson was neat and tidy and they were aided by Gnabry’s devastating movement between the lines, and accomplished performances on the flanks by Kyle Ebecilio and Thomas Eisfeld.

The two Germans had chances before the break but generally the hosts struggled to break down their resilient opponents. After the break, CSKA appeared to tire and there were more gaps for the Gunners to exploit.

Chuba Akpom led the line well but found himself starved of scoring opportunities. Eisfeld is similar to Andrey Arshavin in that he is so often on the periphery, but occasionally explodes into life. He had another chance at the start of the second period, before the goal finally arrived on 56 minutes. Gnabry raced forward and found Bellerin out wide. The Catalan then returned the favour with a smart pass into the box, with Gnabry took in his stride before confidently slotting home.

It was a fine goal as well as a crucial one, which was signified by the mass bundle of celebration that involved every player bar the keeper, Iliev. The players knew the importance of finding the breakthrough. They had the bit between their teeth and went searching for more goals.

Akpom tested what looked a very dodgy Russian keeper, as did Angha but to no avail. The closest Arsenal came to a second was in injury time when Eisfeld let rip with a terrific, dare I say Cristiano Ronaldo-esque freekick from distance which rattled the crossbar. That was that, and the fans, to their credit, applauded the players before scurrying off inside the concourse into what represented something other than Arctic conditions.

Putting aside the freezing cold, and irritating children screaming “you’ve got smelly underpants!” and “flop!” (I don’t know either) every time an opposition player touched the ball, it was a very enjoyable evening; the perfect antidote to this seemingly never-ending International break.

The fact of the matter is that one, maybe two players every five or six years make the cut, and as impressive as some looked last night, it’s a big ask for them to truly ‘make it’ at Arsenal Football Club.

You can generally tell pretty early; Jack Wilshere was bossing reserve midfields at 16, likewise Cesc Fabregas before him. Akpom wasn’t at his best last night but the fact he’s banging in the goals at under-21 level aged just 17 means he’s one to keep an eye on. Besides him, it’s probably only match-winner Gnabry, who’s already featured for the first team lest we forget, who’ll carve out a top-level career.

Although you need luck as well as talent and determination (well-documented by players on Twitter – honestly I’m so sick of those nauseating inspirational quotes) to truly succeed. You need to stay fit throughout this crucial period of development, something the likes of Benik Afobe and Conor Henderson were sadly unable to achieve, and need to grasp any opportunity given to you with both hands. Kieran Gibbs wasn’t as outstanding as some of his peers at youth level, but injuries to Gael Clichy meant he was given a chance at left-back and hasn’t looked back since. Hopefully another member of this extremely exciting crop can follow in his footsteps.

Follow me on Twitter for more insightful musings.

Smells Like Team Spirit

Howdy, folks! It’s been a while since we’ve had a blog post so thought I’d scribble something. May I also take this opportunity to thank those of you that have been so kind as to listen to our podcasts and provide us with some of the wonderful feedback we’ve received. I love doing them, and I’m sure Reece does, too, but we do very little in comparison to Will who sweats blood and tears (sometimes literally apparently) to upload them. So thanks to him as well. Right, enough of the Oscar acceptance speech, here’s some words about Arsenal and stuff. Cheers.

With the title race all but over, if it wasn’t already, a lot of attention in the coming weeks will not only be paid to the action at the bottom of the Premier League table, but also to what’s going on beneath the two Manchester clubs, in the race to claim Champions League football next season.

Tottenham and Chelsea currently occupy third and fourth position, but after a massive win over Swansea City yesterday, you’d be foolish to write off Arsenal’s chances of making the top four and securing Champions League football for a 16th consecutive season.

After a victory over Bayern Munich in midweek that was as taxing as it was impressive, if ultimately not quite enough, the team could have perhaps been forgiven for turning in a below-par performance. Some would argue that’s what they gave in the first half but sustained pressure ultimately wore down a very good Swansea side who, lest we forget, are still riding the wave of their League Cup triumph.

Nacho Monreal and Gervinho (yes, you read that correctly) were the goalscorers and the magnitude of the celebrations from fans, players and staff alike proved just how crucial this three points was. Goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski ran into the opposition half to congratulate the much-maligned Ivorian, who desperately needed a goal as a confidence boost. Likewise Fabianski himself received a warm embrace from fellow Polish goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny, who has been left out of the last couple of games. Two consecutive clean sheets seem to prove it to be a shrewd decision by manager Arsene Wenger.

But if nothing else, these celebrations suggested a real aura of togetherness amongst the squad. Theo Walcott was quoted as saying that, for the first time in a while, the team are communicating better on the pitch; that the leaders Arsenal are perhaps notorious for lacking are at long last stepping up. To put it bluntly, Arsenal are more of a team now. Responsibility seems to be more evenly shared than in the past when there was perhaps too much emphasis on players like Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie to perform and dig their teammates out of holes.

After a very forgettable season thus far, maybe, much like last campaign, this is the beginning of an upward curve for the Gunners, just when it really matters. The win over Swansea, when combined with Tottenham’s loss at Liverpool last weekend means that the North London Derby defeat, which many felt would prove to separate the teams indefinitely, has been cancelled out.

Spurs love an end-of-season collapse, and with a tough-looking run-in, they’re by no means home and dry and can easily be caught. Similarly, Chelsea have still got tough games in the league as well as an FA Cup replay and more Europa League football to negotiate. Liverpool and Everton may also still consider themselves in the mix, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the race go down to the wire. Whichever way the pendulum swings, it’s sure to be exciting.

Follow me on Twitter for more insightful musings.

The one where Francis Jeffers wields a broomstick

This week sees our three intrepid podcasters battle through illness and boredom to bring you the latest episode of the MASF podcast!

After what’s been a non-Arsenal week, Tom and Reece join me to discuss last week’s Champions League ties, the FA Cup quarter-finals and round up the latest results from the major leagues. Highlights include: Ronaldo being annoyed, Francis Jeffers wielding a broomstick and Ryan Giggs keeping it up for ages. You can find this week’s podcast here.

You can also follow the blog/podcast on twitter @MASFBlog and each of us individually @savagegooner@gooner_tom and @LoddarKasier[if that’s still Reece’s handle]. Enjoy!