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An appreciation of Everton’s free spirit, Bernard

Unfairly dropped earlier this season, it’s time for the Brazilian to make this campaign his own

Everton FC v West Ham United - Premier League
Bernard scored in Saturday’s 2-0 win against West Ham and was a joy to watch
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Every good footballer should have their own signature move. Think Cristiano Ronaldo’s mesmerising stepovers, Thierry Henry’s deft fake passes, Zinedine Zidane’s perfect circles or Johan Cruyff’s trademark turn, so good they gave him the naming rights.

Maybe now, we could add to this list Everton’s limber, diminutive winger Bernard, and his knack for passing up easier scoring opportunities, seemingly leading himself down a cul-de-sac, only to eventually, inexplicably, fashion something from nothing.

Indeed, everything about Bernard’s goal in Everton’s much-needed 2-0 home win over West Ham on Saturday felt so incongruous with all football logic. Having timed his run immaculately, he bypassed the last line of defence, which Theo Walcott carved open with his through ball pinpointed right into his path. Goodison Park drew its breath in anticipation of a surge of delirium, and obviously so. With only goalkeeper Roberto to beat, the inevitable next move was for Bernard to shoot.

Except he didn’t. He cut back, daring his opponents to be lured into a false and ultimately fatal sense of security. By then, four men in claret and blue, all of whom exceeded his minuscule 5 ft 4 in frame, had Bernard cornered. The chance to put Everton ahead, surely, had came and gone.

Everton FC v West Ham United - Premier League
Bernard scored a wonderful goal for Everton on Saturday
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Except it hadn’t. In the most dazzling act of escapology, Bernard first left Declan Rice in a tailspin - perhaps a sort of Zidane tribute act - before swivelling seamlessly away from Arthur Masuaku. Even then, though, with Roberto darting out of his goal and Bernard now walking the tightrope of the by-line, the angle looked far too acute to even consider shooting. With Richarlison in space and Walcott deserted at the far post, squaring to either better-placed team-mate seemed the next logical step.

Except it wasn’t. He found the narrowest of gaps, and exposed it with sheer precision. It was the quintessential Bernard move: logic defied, Goodison enthralled.

To watch the Brazilian, especially when he is in the sort of carefree mood he found himself on Saturday, is an enthralling roller-coaster of emotions in itself. Whereas it has become fashionable among Evertonians to at times unfairly decry some of his team-mates - Morgan Schneiderlin and Gylfi Sigurðsson, for instance - for their overly cautious approach at times, Bernard is the absolute antithesis of this. Not only for his blistering speed, his element of surprise, or his unparalleled intelligence and vision on the pitch; no, the real thrill is that you wonder if even he knows what he will do next.

Of course, this approach of almost playing on impulse has its detractors too. Indeed, there are times where Bernard’s contagious, relentless enthusiasm can feel simultaneously his greatest strength and his most glaring weakness; at times, he is probably guilty of trying too hard, if anything.

Not always has his determination to take the longer route to goal proved as profitable as it did on Saturday, and in some ways, he typifies Everton during Silva’s 17-month tenure; sparkling and free-flowing one week, exasperating the next. Certainly, a return of one league goal last season, his first year in England, having failed to register a first shot on target until the end of March, substantiates the notion that he is a good decision-maker in the final third away from being a genuinely elite footballer.

Brighton & Hove Albion v Everton FC - Premier League
Bernard can frustrate at times, but it’s never through lack of effort
Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

But in spite of these damning statistics, there are so many more reasons for Silva to keep faith with him. For one thing, his end product is beginning to improve, with two goals, both beautifully executed, now to his name this term. As results tailed off horribly in September for Everton, it is difficult to either understand or justify Silva’s decision to exclude him from recent starting line-ups; the West Ham victory was only the second time he has began a league game for Everton since August 23. Tellingly, of their four consecutive league defeats, Bernard missed two entirely, and was introduced as a substitute and hooked in the other pair.

The power of a partnership should never be devalued, either, and the way in which he and Lucas Digne work in tandem with such fluidity down the left flank is not something that should have been jettisoned so hastily.

Everton FC v West Ham United - Premier League
Digne and Bernard get the best out of each other
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

It’s easy to read too much into these sort of things, but the two hugged each other in a particularly warm embrace just before kick-off, which rather felt symbolic of the tremendous bond they share on the pitch. Much like Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar about a decade ago, here are two footballers who not only have a wonderful rapport with each other, but get the best performances out of each other, too.

And what’s more, and really what matters more than anything else to Evertonians, is that he smiles a lot. Even if the recent face of adversity, even though his physicality - or lack thereof - can leave him at such a disadvantage at times, even though he may barely have even heard of Everton two years ago, in every game he plays for the club, he looks as though he is living a boyhood dream.

This, coupled with such brilliant technical ability, is the perfect synthesis, in many ways, for the Goodison faithful. It is why, essentially, chairman Bill Kenwright saw fit to interrupt Bernard’s post-match interview for a Brazilian television station on Saturday to profess his love for him from the minute he arrived on Merseyside in August 2018. He proves, more than most, that you don’t have to have grown up on a diet of The Beatles, Stanley Park kickabouts and Sheedy and Sharp to truly ‘get’ Everton.

In the eye of the storm Everton have found themselves enveloped in lately, Bernard has been one of few beacons of hope. With the benchmark now set in the way West Ham were comprehensively swept aside, now is his and his team’s moment to truly kick on.