Everton: Marco Silva is the perfect coach for new signing Bernard
The Brazilian — touted as the next big thing when he arrived in Ukraine — looks set to leave Shakhtar Donetsk on a free.
Five years have passed since Bernard was a highly rated prospect emerging from his hometown club Atletico Mineiro.
Back in 2013, he was linked to the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool, and Arsenal. Luiz Felipe Scolari thought highly of the player and he was an important part of Brazil’s team at the 2014 World Cup.
When he made the move to Shakhtar Donetsk, many assumed he would follow in the footsteps of Fernandinho, Douglas Costa, Willian or Fred in being a Brazilian to use the Ukrainian club as a springboard for a move to a European superclub.
It never quite worked out that way, but five years later he’s still a talented winger with a lot to offer.
Life in Donetsk (and Lviv, and Kharkiv)
Bernard suffered difficulties since his move away from his home city of Belo Horizonte. Adapting to life in Ukraine isn’t always easy for South American superstars, and shortly after his move came a revolution in his new country.
Following the Euromaidan protests, the ousting of corrupt former President Viktor Yanukovych, and the murder of over 50 protesters, unrest and conflict hit the east of Ukraine and the borders with Russia. It reduced Shakhtar’s stadium, the Donbass Arena, to rubble. The club was forced to play in other cities – Lviv, then Kharkiv.
Inevitably, this had on-field consequences. Dynamo Kyiv won the Ukrainian title in 2015 and 2016, after five consecutive years of Shakhtar dominance. Long-serving manager Mircea Lucescu departed the club — the Romanian had an exceptional record of developing Brazilian talent and was fluent in Portuguese.
In the midst of all this, Bernard struggled. Ankle ligament injuries didn’t help in the 2014/15 season, and his reputation nosedived following Brazil’s infamous 7-1 defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup. He replaced the injured Neymar that night, but he’s not played for the Selecao ever since.
But, away from the international spotlight, he’s improved and been a vital part of Shakhtar’s recovery in recent years. Portuguese manager Paulo Fonseca has got the best out of the diminutive winger as Shakhtar have battled their way to the last two Ukrainian titles.
He scored and put in a Man of the Match performance against Manchester City in the Champions League to qualify from the group stage ahead of Napoli. Once again, international attention was upon him.
After letting his contract run down, his time in Ukraine has now come to an end.
Bernard’s style of play
Emerging as a teenage talent at Atletico Mineiro, Bernard played as a left winger, scoring 12 times and making 11 assists as he linked up with Ronaldinho (enjoying his twilight years) and Jo in a deadly front three.
Small in stature, it was his technical ability and lightning turn of pace that made him stand out. Drifting inward, he often plays one-twos and is incisive when in the final third. He’s also no slouch, eager to press and track back, contributing defensively.
After five years at Shakhtar, not much has changed. Still playing an attacking role on the left, he enjoyed a good understanding with his compatriots Taison and Marlos who played in a three together behind Argentinian striker Facundo Ferreyra.
How will he fit at Everton?
The thing that stands out at Everton is their new coach, Marco Silva.
Bernard enjoyed a good relationship with Fonseca at Shakhtar and his new manager is cut from the same cloth. The ability to communicate in Portuguese will be beneficial once again. Tactically, Silva will look to utilise him in the same way, likely playing the same 4-2-3-1 that he used at Hull and Watford. Bernard excelled in that role at his last club.
Occupying the left wing spot, it’s likely Theo Walcott will play on the other wing while big-money signing Richarlison will be in-between as the number ten with Gylfi Sigurdsson, or rotating with Bernard on the left. Cenk Tosun will be the centre forward ahead of them. With Bernard’s arrival imminent, the rumours of Yannick Bolasie’s departure make sense.
This front four would be a multi-faceted attack that utilises width and looks to play crosses to the considerable frame of Tosun, but can also cut inside, play and create through central areas.
There is perhaps a question of physicality, with Walcott, Richarlison, and Bernard all fairly diminutive. This would ask a lot of the sitting two behind them, but Idrissa Gueye in particular has the ability to rise to the challenge.
The other question would be of last summer’s record signing Sigurdsson and the new role for him — would he be able to play deeper? If not, it suggests that Bernard might simply be a squad player. But as a free agent and with a pick of top European teams to choose from, going to Everton suggests he’s been promised plenty of game time.
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