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Everton's new signing Bernard's potential to shine in the Premier League

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.

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In the same year, Bernard would make nine appearances in the yellow shirt of Brazil, including at the Confederations Cup that Brazil won, doing enough to earn his big-money move and cement his place in the following year’s World Cup squad.

Unfortunately, that World Cup would not go as planned for the player or the nation as a whole.

When Neymar was injured in the truculent quarter-final against Colombia, Bernard was the man who Big Phil Scolari turned to as a replacement. What happened next will forever remain burned into the Brazilian collective memory.

As the team collapsed to a 7-1 defeat, their youngest player ran around the pitch with the look of a small child lost in the supermarket. Bernard himself can hardly be blamed, but the image has stuck.

He is among eight participants from that game who have not pulled on the yellow shirt since, exiled in the Ukrainian Premier League, out of sight and out of mind. And even there, at a club with such a strong Brazilian connection, he struggled to settle back down.

Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu accused the player of not having a professional attitude and, for a time, a place in the starting 11 was hard to come by.

Manchester City v Shakhtar Donetsk - UEFA Champions League

He was saved, however, by the arrival of Paulo Fonseca, the Portuguese manager who came in to replace Lucescu at the helm. With Fonseca in charge, Bernard was handed more responsibility and grasped the opportunity with both hands.

Shakhtar stormed to two consecutive domestic doubles and their Brazilian contingent starred last season as the team reached the Champions league last-16, only going out on away goals to a brilliant Roma outfit.

At the same time, Bernard was running down his contract, hoping that as a free agent clubs in more prestigious leagues would be tempted to employ his services. Everton have given him that chance.

The Premier League is one of the most widely-watched foreign championships in Brazil and he will believe that by performing well on a weekly basis in a place where he is far more visible, he will apply pressure for Brazil manager Tite to call him up once more.

Now at his peak, and much more mature than when he was thrust into the team in 2014, Bernard should have a reasonable chance of doing so. With the Toffees, he will have the added bonus of working under a manager who speaks the same language as he does and playing alongside compatriot Richarlison.

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Tite is open to testing new squad options in the friendlies in September, October and November, especially in forward positions, with an eye on next year’s Copa America. Along with the likes of Richarlison, Barcelona man Malcom and Flamengo’s Lucas Paqueta, Tite will be keeping a close eye on Bernard’s progress.

That first round of friendlies will certainly come too soon, however. Bernard has not played any competitive football since the Champions League encounter in Rome and will need to work hard to regain match sharpness. Marco Silva has referred to the coming weeks as a “second pre-season” for his new signings.

After some work in the gym and on the training pitch, he will then need to adapt quickly to the physical demands of playing in the Premier League every weekend. But there is no doubt he is capable of doing so.

Although Bernard may be small in stature, he more than makes up for it in personality and courage. And with his technical ability – the “joy in his legs” – he will be a nightmare for defenders to mark.

If he can hit the ground running for the Blues and force his way back into Tite’s plans it will be a stunning comeback for someone who, four years ago, hit such a low ebb.

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