Any avid football fan will probably have heard about the success of RB Leipzig this season, as their astronomical rise has seen them as a major topic within the footballing community. Finishing 2nd in their maiden Bundesliga season with their high-pressing style, their crop of young talents has elevated them to the top tier of Germany’s first division.
One of those talents is Bernardo Fernandes da Silva Junior. The Brazilian was born in Sao Paulo & developed for Gremio’s renowned youth setup before making the journey across the Atlantic. The journey from Gremio would have obviously been to try & break into the senior team setup a few years along the line…until Red Bull Brazil came along, poaching them from Gremio’s hands. From there, Red Bull Salzburg was the next step, logically as it was part of the Red Bull Footballing dynasty.
16 games later in Austria, Bernardo was off again in the summer of 2016, this time to Red Bull Leipzig, treading a familiar path within the da Silva household. Bernardo’s father, (also named Bernardo) was an ex-professional himself. Bernardo held five caps for the Brazilian national team, having played in Germany too at Germany’s top dog side, Bayern Munich.
Among Red Bull’s many sides, Bernardo is the first from Red Bull Brasil’s system to make a splash in Europe; perhaps, like Salzburg and Leipzig, Campinas will be the next powerhouse town for producing elite footballing talent.
In 2014, Bernardo left Grêmio for Red Bull’s burgeoning South American project, but was loaned to Ponte Preta for playing time, which also shares the same stadium with Red Bull Brasil, a convenient “coincidence” for Red Bull’s brilliant operating team of scouts and coaches.
The problem, however, was that Bernardo rarely played, and he was therefore sent back to Red Bull Brasil to gain much-needed game time. Hence, in 2015 Bernardo was part of the Red Bull Brasil squad that finished the Group A of the 2015 Campeonato Paulista, second behind FC São Paulo—yet he only featured in three of the matches.
Now, to put all of this into perspective, Bernardo was 14 years old when RB Leipzig was created. He naturally developed at Leipzig’s now-feeder club, which has seen so many players, from Dayot Upamecano to Naby Keïta, develop there before making the move to Germany. Above all, Leipzig brought Bernardo in for his stellar versatility, making him a jack-of-all-trades across defense.
“With Bernardo we signed a flexible left-footed player, who can play as a centre-back, a wing-back, but also as a defensive midfielder,” RB Leipzig sporting director Ralf Rangnick said after signing the young Brazilian.
The versatility & stamina of the Brazilian was seen as a key building block to implement into the Saxony-based club. Able to play in a number of positions, yet most comfortable at center back, Bernardo was able to cement himself as Leipzig’s starting right back, providing stability, width & energy into their defence. With Leipzig’s intense-yet-coordinated pressing forcing either an error or a panicky long ball from opposition regularly, Bernardo’s prowess in the air was also a noticeable strength during those forced long balls.
Despite a meniscus injury, Bernardo impressed in Germany, scoring in the Champions League qualifiers and establishing himself as a crucial part of Hassenhüttl’s XI. Leipzig’s 2nd place finish was due in no small part to their 3rd best defense in the league, and if they wish to repeat their successes in Germany, as well as foster a winning reputation in their first season playing in Europe, Bernardo will be crucial.
So what’s next for the Brazilan defender? As many know, Leipzig do not sell their best talents very easily (go ask Jurgen Klopp to confirm this), but with Champions League football secured for the 2017-18 season, Bernardo will see this as an opportunity to showcase himself amongst the Europe’s elite, as well as using it as an opportunity to throw his name into the hat as a dark horse to gate-crash into the Brazilian senior team setup, with World Cup 2018 looming in the shadows.
The comparisons with Luiz Gustavo were obvious, what with the two versatile Brazilians having made their names in Germany, but Bernardo must carve out his own path. With his father’s expertise and Leipzig’s brilliant coaches, he couldn’t have asked for a better entourage.
At 22 years old, as Leipzig continue their astronomical rise, Bernardo’s career seems to follow the same linear trajectory. His name could certainly be one we’ll all be familiar with in the near future for years to come.
By: Zach Lowy (@ZCalcio) and Simeon John (@SJFtbl)