Amidst the constant transfer rumours linking Bernard to Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, FC Porto and Roma, let’s have a look at what skills the 5’4” attacking midfielder has at his disposal.
Background and Personality
Bernard Anício Caldeira Duarte, or simply Bernard as he is more commonly known, is a 20-year-old Brazilian who currently plays for Atletico Mineiro. He is a product of the club’s own youth system. His preferred position is as a central attacking midfielder, though he is versatile enough to play in a wider attacking role as well (for e.g. as a left/right attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1).
The biggest defining incident, or rather incidents, involving Bernard that you need to be aware of is that he was sent packing twice by the club — due to his short height, it was perceived that he won’t have what it takes — and twice he worked and fought and forced his way back in. Today, he is the club’s most valuable asset. Talking about these rejections with FIFA.com, he said: “It was a big obstacle for me and I think any kid my age would have given up. The two times they sent me away I asked them if I could come back. All I wanted was to be a football player.”
This could well be Bernard’s defining character trait that will see him make his mark on world football. As Mark Twain once famously said, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” This dog has bucket-loads of fight in him.
Dribbling, Skills and Movement
Physically, Bernard is something of a lightweight (around 57 kgs/125 pounds), though his fighting nature means that he has learnt to get his body in the way and use all his strength to hold off defenders to a degree. Thankfully he has great pace, which he uses well to compensate for his other physical shortcomings.
Training alongside Ronaldinho has to have its benefits. Not that the former Barcelona legend can take all the credit for Bernard’s impressive skill set, but a positive steepening of Bernard’s performance charts has coincided with Ronaldinho’s move to Atletico Mineiro. It is most likely a combination of the older star’s talents rubbing off on the rookie, and simply a benefit of playing alongside superior players. Bernard is still very young, and still has room for improvement, but he has shown flashes of his ability to move past defenders as if they were standing still.
Bernard’s touch is quite immaculate, and probably one of his greatest assets. He can stop the ball dead when he wants, or just touch it past a defender (for a taste of what he can do, look at this video). To be clear, Bernard is not a show off; if he tries to carry out a flick, step-over or a dummy, it will usually be with a clear intent and objective, not to showboat.
The Confederations Cup 2013 semi-final between Brazil and Uruguay will mostly be remembered for Paulinho’s 86th minute match-winning header and Neymar’s demonstration of his latest skill: the face-grab-spot-jump. In the 63rd minute of this match, Bernard came on to replace Hulk, and the Brazilian side immediately improved. The passing was crisper, the movements more incisive, and suddenly Brazilian players were looking much stronger a threat. That is what Bernard brings to the table: the ability to add more than one dimension to the attack, where the opposition is constantly unsure whether he is the trigger or the bullet.
Passing and Chance Creation
Bernard looks most effective with a striker in front of him, and at least one more creative player alongside him; this allows him to utilise his versatility. A creative player moving around him allows him to exploit his great knack for one-two passing and classic tiki-taka football, as he has often done with Ronaldinho this past season. His pass completion ratios in his substitute appearances for Brazil (in the Confederations Cup 2013) against Italy (69’ substitute) and Uruguay (64’ substitute) were 83% and 94% respectively. These numbers are hugely impressive when you look at the fact that he played in a very attacking role, in matches that were moving at a fairly frantic pace at the time of his addition. For reference, he came on in place of Neymar, who had an 81% pass success rate against Italy, and Hulk at 74% against Uruguay.
At the same time, a finisher who prefers to lurk around the 18-yard box allows Bernard to make good use of his ability to switch to wide positions and launch in crosses. Any striker playing alongside him will benefit greatly from his ability to pick a pass. Just ask Jo, the former Manchester City striker, whose career has gotten its second wind since joining Atletico Mineiro in 2012. He has scored 22 goals in his time with the club, leading to a surprise call up by the Brazil national team (when Leandro Damiao pulled out of the Confederations Cup 2013 due to injury). He has Bernard (and partially Ronaldinho) to thank for this resurgence; the little man has been a constant source of crosses and lay-offs to the lanky striker, who has happily buried these balls into the back of the net.
If there is one aspect of a passing game in which he is yet to demonstrate proficiency, it’s the ability to provide a defence splitting through ball. Perhaps it is simply a talent he doesn’t get to display because of the way Mineiro line up, but it is a skill he will need aplenty if he moves to a top European league.
He idolises Romario, the Brazilian legend who is one of the very few to have scored over 1,000 goals in his career. Bernard isn’t a center-forward, but he seems nearly as hungry for goals.
One look at the kind of goals he scores and it is apparent that he is comfortable finishing with both feet. A chipped shot here, a driven grounded shot there, and a few volleys to top it all off; he’s got an impressive shooting arsenal.
That being said, defences in the Brazilian first division aren’t as physical or imposing as ones in the big European leagues. Most of his goals generally come from somewhat low pressure situations. If he joins a Premier League side, say, he won’t get nearly as much time to think and place the ball as he does in his home country.
Bernard is a fighter, someone who will chase the ball if he loses it (back into his own defensive third, at times), and try to win it back. Unfortunately, his tackling skills are not at par with his attacking competence. The result is predictable: he is a regular source of fouls and often picks up yellow cards (and reds, too). He needs to brush up this aspect of his game, otherwise it may become the one thing that stops him from becoming a world-class midfielder.
The Road Ahead
Talking to ESPN Brazil regarding the upcoming Copa Libertadores Final, Bernard stated: “If it’s my last game [for Atletico Mineiro] or not, it will be one of the most important titles in my career”. Quite clearly he wanted to avoid commenting on his club future, but various rumor-mongers started using this as ‘evidence’ that he was going to seek a transfer.
A lot of English clubs have been linked: Chelsea (who already have too many no. 10s in the squad), Arsenal (where he would most probably be an understudy to Santi Cazorla), Tottenham (with Paulinho’s transfer, they don’t look like needing more midfielders unless someone moves out), and Liverpool (who are looking ahead to a season without any European football). Outside England, Borussia Dortmund, AS Roma, FC Porto and Spartak Moskva have also been rumored to be interested. He will carefully pick his next move; someone who has worked as hard as him to get where he is will not make a move on a whim.
After all his effort and determination, the worst thing he can do is start feeling that he has arrived, and rest on his laurels. Brazil and the 2014 World Cup are on the horizon, and so is his chance to get his name in the history books.
For young Bernard, immortality is there for the taking