Wind the clock back to early 2014 and Bernard was big news in Brazil. He was the youngest player in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Selecao squad for their home World Cup and had recently become Shakhtar Donetsk’s record signing, costing the Ukrainian giants a whopping €25 million.
But now, with another World Cup having just whizzed by, he seems a distant – and painful – memory for most casual football fans in South America’s biggest country.
With his free transfer to Everton, announced by the Merseyside club on deadline day, Bernard will be looking to reclaim some of the prestige he once held in his homeland. And, if he performs to the level he is capable of, he may even make a return to the national team in time for next year’s Copa America.
Bernard came through the ranks at Belo Horizonte-based club Atletico Mineiro, but things were not always easy for the skilful winger, for whom the word diminutive would be a vast understatement.
If now, fully grown, the 25-year-old stands at just 5’4” and weighs in at around 9 stone, imagine what he was like as a teenager.
In a television report before the 2014 World Cup, his father recalled how Bernard’s future had repeatedly been called into question, owing to his size. “We always heard, ‘Oh, there’s no way he’ll make it, because he’s small and weak’,” said Delio Duarte.
As a youngster Atletico didn’t allow him to play in competitive games for fear of injury, only permitting participation in training sessions. At one point, he was even let go by the club completely.
“I arrived home, told my parents and I cried. This was something that made me even stronger”, Bernard recounted.
But Atletico could not ignore the ability he had on the ball – in 2013 Scolari described the player as having “joy in his legs” – and took him back, loaning him out for a season before he was integrated into the first-team at the age of 19.
From there, his ascent was explosive. In 2013, Atletico put together the strongest squad in South America, with Ronaldinho, Jo and Diego Tardelli making up an outstanding attacking quartet alongside Bernard.
The financial investment in such big names paid dividends and in July of that year, they were crowned champions of the Americas, winning the much-coveted Copa Libertadores.