Club form is no guarantee of international success. If there is anybody who would understand that concept it is Luiz Felipe Scolari—a man who has achieved success as an international coach with both his native Brazil and Portugal.
His squad selection for the coming World Cup, where he will lead Brazil for a second time, recognises that fact. There is no place for Atletico Madrid’s Miranda or Filipe Luis, while Bayern Munich’s Rafinha is another to miss the cut following an excellent season.
Scolari is fair in his selection decisions, having afforded opportunities to a wide range of players over the past 18 months. In forming his squad, though, he has rewarded those who have earned his trust in a Brazil shirt rather than form over the past 12 months.
It is fair to say there are several members of the Selecao party who have endured difficult seasons at club level.
Centre-back David Luiz rarely played in his preferred role for Chelsea, midfielder Paulinho’s form suffered amid the turmoil at Tottenham, while Hernanes has failed to make much of an impact since his January arrival at Inter. It is far from ideal.
Perhaps the man who has suffered most, however, is Shakhtar Donetsk forward Bernard. Not only has he had to deal with the Ukrainian side’s lavish recruitment of attacking midfielders last summer, but also the political unrest which has engulfed the east of Ukraine. On and off the pitch, it has been a far-from-ideal campaign.
Despite his difficulties, Scolari has stuck by the diminutive star. Despite a blistering end to the season from Paris Saint-Germain’s Lucas Moura, Scolari has not budged from his principles of rewarding those who have earned his trust.
Lucas has his backers, but has failed to show his ability on the international stage. Bernard, meanwhile, lit up the pitch nearly every time he made an appearance. They were frequently mere cameo showings, but it was enough to overtake his ineffective rival in the pecking order.
Both are, in effect, similar players. They are sprightly dribblers with a low centre of gravity, the ability to beat an opponent one-on-one and a decent record in front of goal. Normally used as a replacement for Hulk on Brazil’s right flank, their searing pace is an incredible asset against tiring defences.
It came to a simple choice of one or the other for the final World Cup squad. Scolari chose the man who had performed most consistently under his management.
Bernard, then, has much to prove in the month ahead. He has a decision to justify in the eyes of many and will play an important role from the bench for Brazil. Albeit, it is worth noting, his selection over Lucas was deemed far less controversial in the eyes of Brazilian fans and media than their European equivalents.
In the Confederations Cup, Brazil were lucky. The Selecao were never forced to chase a game and, in the latter stages of ties, they were afforded vast swathes of the pitch in which to counter as their opponents searched for goals. In such conditions, Bernard thrives.
What will perhaps be important this summer is for the former Atletico Mineiro star to show a second side to his game.
If Brazil are ever unable to break a side down prior to the late stages, Scolari will turn to his attacking options on the bench. Bernard will need to show a more creative side to his game that is as yet untested internationally. He has largely appeared in times of relative comfort.
But Bernard is more than just a runner. There is an intelligence to his game, demonstrated on a regular basis before joining Shakhtar, that perhaps separates him from Lucas.
The PSG man, perhaps undeservedly, has a reputation for running with his head down. Bernard, meanwhile, learned much from a spell alongside the legendary Ronaldinho.
Brazil are expecting only success this summer and, for that to happen, they will need to overcome adversity at some point. Bernard may remain relatively unknown to many fans outside of his homeland, but he will be key to Brazil’s hopes of changing the flow of a game late in the tie.
He should not be underestimated, for he is a truly outstanding talent. However, the burdens are also upon the player himself to prove that he is worthy of Felipao’s faith in picking him as the Selecao’s primary game-changing option from the bench. At his best, he is fully equipped for the role.