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Bernard has come a long, long way in the last few years

From Brazil to Merseyside, via war-torn Ukraine

Everton FC v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Despite measuring up to only 5 feet 5 inches, Bernard’s sheer effusive presence makes him a giant among men. Always renowned for his humility, even becoming Everton’s latest star has done nothing to change that - when he got up after giving this interview to multiple media sources, he made it a point to shake hands with every single journalist in the room at Finch Farm.

Over the years, the attacking wizard has overcome prejudice against his small size to make it to the highest level of the game, featuring in Brazil’s 2014 World Cup squad. Days after their humiliating 7-1 defeat at the hands of Germany in the semifinals, at home no less, a passenger airplane was shot down over eastern Ukraine and the country was plunged into chaos.

“The plane was shot down close to where I was living with my parents. It was when I was at the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 this all started. I heard rumours about the bombs and war.

“The situation was hard and tense. I was very young when I moved to Shakhtar Donetsk [in 2013] and it was in the first season the war broke out. We had to change our city and move to the capital [Kiev, 600 miles away] and lost the infrastructure we had – the training base – and had to fly to every game. It was a big learning experience over five years.

“There were blockades to enter and exit the cities. Cars were searched for bombs and weapons. There were many Ukrainian players who lost their houses and flats. A lot of the South American players wanted to break from their contracts and went to the courts. A lot of the appeals were lost. I did not try to leave but a lot of people wanted to flee the city. Many did not have the money to leave. A lot of people died in the war.”

Following that World Cup debacle, Bernard has been unable to add to his 14 international caps, but continues to hope that a stable situation at Everton will help with that.

“The only thing I have to worry about here is playing my football. Everton has a fantastic structure and this means players can concentrate on their football. I am really happy to be here. I just want to put in all the dedication and effort I can. If we all do this, we will improve as a whole.

“I am sure the majority – if not all players – want to be playing here. It is the best league in the world. Ever since 2014, it’s been my dream to return [to the Brazil team] but in order to get back I have to be playing well here and adapting to the way Everton play. I just need to put in the effort and hard work here to help Everton. Hopefully, an opportunity will come up in the future.”

Feyenoord v Shakhtar Donetsk - UEFA Champions League
Bernard of Shakhtar Donetsk during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Feyenoord and Shakhtar Donetsk in October 2017
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Fighting against the odds is something that Bernard has had to do right from the outset, much like another Brazilian at Everton, with Richarlison spending the last of his savings to take a one-way bus ride to a trial hundreds of miles away from home.

“I have always faced prejudice for my height and physique. At Atletico Mineiro [his first club in Brazil], I was released on two occasions. Obviously, this caused me some concern but I did get another opportunity and once I started playing, I improved. I just had to show my qualities every day in training and in all games, because I knew this would be a problem I would face on a daily basis.

“I’ve always followed my dad’s advice to overcome the problems of height and physical-related issues I might come across. I can use my qualities to compensate for any of these physical issues, so it’s not a worry for me. On the pitch, if you are quick with your feet and your mind, these small margins can make a difference.”

Not many footballers get to play alongside their idols, but Bernard had the joy and privilege of being a teammate of Ronaldinho, and hopes he can have a similar impact on Richarlison too.

“Playing alongside Ronaldinho was important for me because he was always an idol of mine and somebody that I’d followed. He offered me advice and help that has served me well throughout my career to this day.

“I’m really grateful for him and I’m thankful to God for being given the opportunity to play alongside him. We won an important competition together, the Copa Libertadores, so I started my career alongside him.

“I’m grateful to have been a team-mates of his. Even though it was at the latter stage of his career, he was still very dedicated and it was important for us to have him in our team.

“Richarlison is very young but he has a lot to offer and is going through a really good phase at the moment. What’s significant is he has the character for football. He has no fear of playing. He has played for the Brazilian national team this season and performed very well in every game.”

Marcel Brands and Marco Silva appear to have unearthed an absolute gem of a player in the Brazilian, and a wonderful human being as well.