Persistence pays off for Everton's Bernard having settled in the Premier League

Telegraph Sport
Bernard closely watched Wayne Rooney back home in Brazil before joining Everton  - Everton FC

With the word ‘persist’ prominently inked down the side of his neck, Bernard, the Everton winger, retains a daily reminder of the arduous journey to fulfil a lifelong ambition to play in English football. 

He decided upon the tattoo 18 months ago while at former club Shakhtar Donetsk, in preparation of moments like Sunday when his side host Manchester United.

The dream was not just for himself, though, but for his father Delio, who fuelled their passion for the Premier League through television viewings and an admiration for Wayne Rooney, once feted for Everton and United. 

“We would get up every Sunday morning in Brazil, because of the time difference, and watch the Premier League games. It was almost like a tradition,” revealed Bernard, 26. 

“My dad was a big Wayne Rooney fan so when I played for Shakhtar against Man United in the Champions League, I managed to swap shirts with Rooney and that was a very welcome present to my dad, to make him happy. 

“My dad has framed the shirt, it’s in the living room. Without a doubt on Sunday he will be there on the sofa cheering me on as always. I think that gives me an extra boost, an extra motivating factor, that I can show my dad I deserve to be playing in the best championship in the world. 

“Being here I’m not just living my dream, but the dream of my family and my father. 

“He maybe had the opportunity to become a professional footballer himself, but they say it wasn’t possible because my grandad didn’t want him to leave home. They lived in the countryside, two-and-a-half hours away from Belo Horizonte, and were a family of humble means so it wasn’t really possible for him.” 

Bernard in action against Fulham this month Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Bernard first appeared destined for the Premier League in 2013. Arsenal and Tottenham were among his many suitors as he was named one of the top 11 players in South America following bewitching, beguiling displays in helping Atletico Mineiro lift the Copa Libertadores. 

But only the £21 million offer from Shakhtar was deemed acceptable for a player whose fragile 5ft 5in frame once cast doubt upon his ability to play the game. 

While three league titles followed, conflict in Ukraine left Bernard unsettled and he departed last summer for Everton on a free transfer. 

“Look, I don’t really regret it. I think I had my problems in the Ukraine, a lot of difficulties, but it was a learning experience. 

“It was a period I had to go through and prepared me much better than had I come here earlier. 

“The tattoo is because the majority of my life has been about persistence and dedication. At the time I was learning English, and, as any player in the world, you are always going to have the dream of playing here in England.” 

Bernard playing for Shakhtar challenges for the ball with Manchester City's Phil Foden Credit: AP

At Shakhtar, Bernard teamed up with Fred, the Manchester United midfielder, having first started out together in the youth team at Atletico.  They will be in opposition on Sunday, with Bernard warning his close friend to be “careful with his legs” to avoid being nutmegged. 

United’s £52m outlay on Fred has been questioned as he has failed to impress, but Bernard said: “He’s a great player. I had the chance to see that close up in Ukraine and everything he’s done and achieved, the success he’s had in Europe. 

“We were five years together in the Ukraine and there’s a massive difference between that championship and the intensity of the Premier League. Playing for Shakhtar, you only have that in Champions League games and that could be only six games in the season. 

“I mentioned the problems I had in adapting to the style of play here and it’s natural. You need to evolve, develop an understanding of how football and the league works here. I believe Fred will have the opportunity to show his potential and worth like he has been doing recently.” 

Persistence will also be needed to avoid an Old Trafford exit.  “I’m sure that’s the case from what I know of Fred,” he added. “He’s a great professional and really dedicated. He’s similar to me in that aspect. I’m my own biggest critic. I hate making mistakes, hate losing games.” 

Bernard and Fred are both from Belo Horizonte, the city where, in 1950, England infamously lost 1-0 to the United States in one of the World Cup’s biggest upsets. 

“I didn’t know that,” he said. “But Belo Horizonte is also famous for Brazil losing 7-1 to Germany in the World Cup semi final, a game which I played in. It was a painful and difficult time.” 

Bernard, 21 at the time, was a replacement for the suspended Neymar and has not played for his country since that chastening defeat.  He is focused on doing better for Everton first as he added: “I’ve had an irregular first season. My numbers aren’t what I want them to be.”