Walking through the streets of Belo Horizonte, one could be forgiven for not taking any notice if a 1.64m youngster walked by. Similarly, on the pitch, a 1.64m youngster would commonly be looked down upon by the opposition, as though he were “weak” and/or “inferior”. With the rapidly growing appreciation of diminutive Footballers, quite a number of whom currently rank amongst the best in their respective positions, such aforementioned views have changed vastly, compared to the decades past. That said, Bernard Anício Caldeira Duarte – known simply as Bernard – is truly something special, and would find his way to Football’s summit regardless of which time period he played in. With the apparent popularity of “Anglo-style” names in Brazilian Futebol, names such as Jo, Fred and Alex, “Bernard” is 1 name Football fans across the globe will be hearing aloud more of over the next decade.
Bernard Anício Caldeira Duarte was born in Belo Horizonte, the capital of the Southeastern Brazilian state Minas Gerais, on the 8th of September in 1992. As with most Brazilians, Bernard played Football from a young age. In 1997, A 5-year-old Bernard joined local club Comercial EC do Barreiro, where he would play for 9 years. After showing that he had enough promise and quality, Bernard joined the youth academy of his local club – Atletico Mineiro – in 2006, at the age of 14. Due to his small stature, the youngster was sent away by Atletico MG on 2 occasions, but the club realised their folly and asked him to return. Interesting, and this is where the Messi links come in, Bernard had to receive growth hormone treatment during his childhood, to treat his diminutive size. Yes, he is still very much on the small side, physically.
“I arrived at Atletico in 2006, They were problems and I was sent away 2 times, because of my size. Most Directors recognized the error of the technicians who sent me away and they asked me back.“
Bernard on the obstacles he faced at Atletico MG’s youth academy
In 2010, after 4 years in Galo’s youth teams, Bernard was loaned to Atletico’s farm club – regional lower division outfit Democrata Futebol Clube – to gain experience in the 2nd division of that year’s edition of the state championship, the Campeonato Mineiro. Despite being just 18, Bernard proved to be a key player for Democrata in the Campeonato Mineiro, scoring 14 goals in 16 appearances. With such promise, Galo 1st-team coach Dorival Junior called him up for 1st-team duty when he returned from Democrata. Bernard was placed in the 1st-team despite then still being eligible for the Copa São Paulo de Futebol Júnior.
On the 23rd of March in 2011, Bernard made his 1st-team debut for Atletico Mineiro, featuring in a Campeonato Mineiro fixture against Uberaba Sport Club. Interestingly, Bernard wore the number 2 shirt on his debut as he had to play as a right back due to an injury crisis. After his professional debut, the young Brazilian returned to playing for Galo at youth level, scoring a crucial goal against Fluminense in the Final of the Taça Belo Horizonte de Juniores. After Dorival Junior’s dismissal, Cuca was brought in and he proceeded to reinstate Bernard into the 1st-team. The youngster went on to make 23 appearances(19 starts) and 4 assists in the Brasileirão, with highlights including playing the full 90 minutes against the likes of Corinthians, Flamengo, Internacional, Santos, Fluminense, Palmeiras and Gremio. A slight confirmation of Bernard’s budding potential came in the form of a £3.4 million bid on the 14th of September from Qatari club Al Ahli SC, which Atlético’s president Alexandre Kalil immediately rejected.
If his 2011 was impressive, 2012 would be even better – Bernard’s breakthrough year. Bernard scored his 1st ever 1st-team goal against Boa Esporte Clube in the 2012 Campeonato Mineiro. On the whole, Bernard scored 11 goals and made 12 assists in 36 Brasileirão appearances. Featuring in all but 2 fixtures in the 2012 Brasileirao, Bernard made quite the impression. With no goals or assists in the first 3 Brasileirão matchdays, the key turning point in Bernard’s year, the factor that helped Bernard make the step up to the 1st-team stage, was none other than Ronaldinho Gaúcho. After Ronaldinho joined Atletico Mineiro on the 4th of june that year, Bernard’s performances pushed on to a whole new level. Linking up with Ronaldinho and Jô, who had been signed in May, Bernard provided the youthful exuberance in the exciting Galo attacking triumvirate. Looking more closely at his 2012 statistics, a sign of Bernard’s step up is shown in the fact that none of his 36 appearances featured him coming off the bench. To cap off such a great 2012, Bernard was called up by then Brazil coach Mano Menezes for the Superclásico de las Américas, a home-and-away set of friendlies against rivals Argentina. After featuring in the 1st leg, the youngster made his Selecao debut in the return leg in Buenos Aires, with Brazil emerging overall victors via a penalty shootout. After playing a key role in Atletico Mineiro’s surprise 2nd place finish in the Brasileirão, Bernard was voted the “Revelation Of The 2012 Brasileirão”. The youngster clearly deserved to win this award, what with his breathtaking breakthrough onto the 1st-team stage. Yet again, Atlético president Alexandre Kalil had to turn away another foreign bid for Bernard, this time £9.8 million from Russian side Spartak Moskva in December. Quite clearly, the name “Bernard” was on the lips of every follower of Brazilian domestic Football and, most importantly for him, European club scouts were starting to take notice on his progress.
After finishing as runners-up in the 2012 Brasileirão, there was no way that Bernard would be leaving Atletico Mineiro in the first half of 2013, let alone as early as the January transfer window. With Copa Libertadores Football coming to the Estádio Independência, there was no way that the boyhood Atletico Mineiro supporter would leave his beloved hometown club before playing his part in a push for Continental glory in the hallowed Copa Libertadores. At the time of writing, Atletico Mineiro have delivered impressive perfomances in the Copa Libertadores, and are currently about to face Argentine outfit Newell’s Old Boys in the Semi-Finals. As with the Brazilian mindset, Atletico have prioritised their Copa Libertadores campaign as their highest priority. This is evident in Bernard’s stats, with the youngster thus far featuring only once in the 2013 Brasileirão. Bernard has taken another step up in his fledgling career, scoring 3 goals and providing 1 assist in his 8 Copa Libertadores appearances. Furthermore, he recently gained another international cap, coming off the bench in a much-talked-about friendly against England in Brazil’s famous Maracana stadium.
Turning 21 this year, Bernard already has 59 appearances and 11 goals in the Brasileirão, the “Revelation of the 2012 Brasileirão” award and 2 senior Brazil caps under his belt. He could also be 1 of the heroes of his beloved hometown club winning their inaugural Copa Libertadores title. What a dream 2 years it would be for Bernard if the latter were to happen. With Bernard’s undoubted current quality and future potential, few would bet against that possibility.
As with any diminutive player, the first thing that one notices is his lack of top notch physical attributes, in this case mainly pertaining to strength. On the bright side, Bernard has an electric turn of pace, which simply enhances his technical attributes.
Bernard has very much a team-centric style of play, frequently plays one-twos, often with Ronaldinho, Jô or Diego Tardelli. That said, as with any flair player, Bernard does have his moments of individuality. The Brazilian is comfortable with both feet and likes to drift inward from his starting spot on the left wing.
In terms of technical attributes, Bernard has good vision and is frequently that “1 step” ahead of his opponent when receiving the ball. With his gift of improvisation, Bernard doesn’t look out of place when receiving the ball with his back-to-goal or back-to-opponent – 1 quick turn or flick and he’s created that extra yard of space to execute his ideas. When Bernard receives the ball in the final third, the match “comes alive”, for example in Diego Tardelli’s goal(1-2) against Sao Paulo in the 2013 Copa Libertadores Last-16 1st Leg last month. Receiving the ball from Ronaldinho on the edge of he box and with a defender behind him, a quick flick allowed Bernard to turn away from his opponent and play a pass across the edge of the box to a team-mate(who provided Tardelli with the direct assist). Galo’s attacking move received a tempo boost in that split-second moment of Bernard receiving the ball. The diminutive youngster also has intelligence in movement, often being found drifting across the 3-man playmaking line in the currently en vogue 4-2-3-1 system.
Defensively, Bernard does his fair share of tracking back and pressing the opposition. Despite his inability to be physically intimidating, Bernard’s pace gives him an edge when pressing or tracking back. When needed, the Brazilian wonderkid is willing to even track back all the way to in and around Atletico’s penalty area. Bernard clearly has a good work and team ethic. Where “technical defending” is concerned, Bernard is decent enough at marking his direct opponent when he has to track back. His Football intelligence comes in handy here, as Bernard is able to maintain his focus on marking his opponent and knowing where his opponent is even when the ball is on the opposite flank. That’s an attribute that most coaches will appreciate, as every so often we see attackers having a lapse in concentration and their direct opponent ends up scoring a goal.
A clear weakness of Bernard’s would be his lack of physical strength and, as with almost every young talent, inexperience. These weaknesses can be ironed out with time. Unfortunately, a barrier in Bernard’s progression could be the impression that people have with regard to his diminutive stature. However, that is more of a mindset barrier than any overwhelming weakness.
Where the intangible aspects are concerned, Bernard has a fair bit of tenacity, enough to “to care of himself” on the field, so to speak. With the spotlight currently centred on diving, this isn’t a problem with Bernard, who doesn’t go to ground at the 1st point of physical contact with an opponent.
All in all, Bernard is clearly an extremely talented young Brazilian and he has all the tools needed to make his mark on European Football.
As aforementioned, Bernard has attracted official bids in the past. However, those bids were not a win-win situation for both club and player. Bernard’s potential development would’ve been put well at risk had he moved to the Middle East or Russia. Atletico Mineiro wouldn’t have received as high a transfer fee then, compared to what they would realistically expect to receive at this point in time.
With a good few years in Atletico Mineiro’s 1st-team under his belt, of which the recent 2 years have been Bernard’s breakthrough, Bernard is now ready to move on to bigger and better things, with all due respect to Atletico. What matters now is that Bernard chooses his next move for Footballing reasons than any other incentives.
At the time of writing, Bernard is valued on Transfermarkt at €10m. However, Atletico Mineiro will be looking for a much higher price than that, perhaps closer to €15m or €20m. The young attacker has been linked with a move to Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Borussia Dortmund, FC Porto, Spartak Moskva (again) and AS Roma. All of those moves would be financially attractive to any young Footballer. However, closer inspection suggests that a much closer look should be taken. Any move to Russia should be out of the picture, purely down the fact that Bernard can do much better.
*(At the time of writing, the latest price-related news comes from Portuguese newspaper A Bola, who have reported that Atletico Mineiro President Alexandre Kalil has set Bernard’s price at €25m.)*
Chelsea wouldn’t be a wise choice at this stage of the Brazilian’s career. While the money on offer would, in all likelihood, be higher than other potential suitors, Bernard wouldn’t get the required regularity of games needed to kick on to the next level. Tottenham could be a viable option, with Andre Villas-Boas being the main draw. However, the much-talked-about physicality of English Football could be “too much, too soon” for a 1st move out of South America. Furthermore, the spotlight of the English media and tabloids wouldn’t be a good thing for Bernard at this point in time.
Borussia Dortmund would represent a good starting point for Bernard’s career in Europe. The attractiveness of a move to the Signal Iduna Park would be the stability of German Football, and BVB in particular, the charisma and nous of Jurgen Klopp and the fact that the core of the Schwarzgelben is relatively close to Bernard’s age group. Also, UEFA Champions League Football is more-or-less a yearly guarantee at Dortmund. With the departures of Mario Götze and (probably) Robert Lewandowski, Bernard will have a good chance of cementing a regular starting spot while BVB are going through a “transition” phase. Die Borussen have reportedly been in direct negotiations with Bernard’s club but, as expected with each club fighting for a self-beneficial deal, they aren’t close to a concrete deal yet.
“Dortmund rumours? I am very happy here, I have a contract until 2017 but it all depends on the manager’s decision.”
Bernard on a possible move to Borussia Dortmund
“I talked a bit with Bernard and explained the philosophy of this country(Germany). He is a talented boy who will adapt to Germany. If that is his desire then I hope he will do it. I gave him some tips. He may not have a physique like many other players but he is a player who would suit Borussia Dortmund’s style of play.“
Bayern Munic’s Brazilian international Dante on his Seleção colleague Bernard
If Bernard were to take the much-plodded route of moving to a smaller league before moving upwards, a move to Portugal would be pragmatic. Porto are looking to sign a replacement for the recently-departed James Rodríguez, while Benfica will be needing to shake-up their team after a disappointing “Neverkusen”-esque performance in the 2012/13 season.
While Roma would also be a good move, with the prospect of an attacking triumvirate of Francesco Totti, Erik Lamela and Bernard being extremely enticing, the pressures that are continually placed on the Giallorossi wouldn’t be conducive for Bernard’s development. In Calcio, Bernard could either be an absolute star or a pressure-induced flop. Put in his boots, would anyone really take that chance..?
“There is no chance I will leave before the Copa Libertadores. I have made that clear to Atletico. If they want to sell me, do so after the Libertadores. I want to make history at this club. There is nothing right now, just speculation. The club’s president has said I am unlikely to stay, that it will be hard to keep me, so I am waiting on a decision. If he decides something, we will sit down and talk and decide what is best for everyone”.
At the time of writing, the latest quote from Bernard himself [Globo Esporte]
Quite clearly, Bernard is a driven young talent who knows what he wants. From a fairytale-esque standpoint, a Copa Libertadores triumph would be the perfect way for Bernard to end his time at his beloved Atletico Mineiro, and also provide him with a good platform to make his long-awaited leap into European Football.
All in all, I personally believe that a move to Borussia Dortmund or Portugal would be best for Bernard’s overall development and long-term career prospects.
Whatever the case, I’d confidently assert that Bernard will be a name that Football fans worldwide will be hearing a lot more of over the next decade.
*(At the time of writing, Globo has reported that Atlético Mineiro have only received 1 offer for Bernard so far, a €12m bid from Borussia Dortmund. Tottenham Hotspur are expected to offer more in the next few days.)*
UPDATE: Bernard joined Shakhtar Donetsk.
View his SoccerWiki profile