RB Leipzig's fairytale first season in the Bundesliga has got the whole world talking about a club who did not even exist as little as eight years ago, including a sizeable number of Brazilian fans now following the fortunes of the boy known as Bernardo.
Bernardo Fernandes da Silva Junior was only 14 when the Saxony-based club were formed, and just five years later, his path to stardom was being plotted. That is when the Sao Paulo-born defender was signed up for the Red Bull Brasil academy from Gremio. From there, it was not as big a step to Red Bull Salzburg as it was geographically from South America to Austria, yet it was a considerable leap forward in the then 21-year-old's career.
Watch: The Bundesliga's Bernardo is brimming with talent
Blooded in European football in the Austrian Bundesliga, he found himself moving on to Leipzig just six months and 16 games later, treading a familiar path. Indeed, Bernardo's father – a five-time Brazil international – had also earned some stripes in Europe. Bernardo Sr. only played four times in a two-month stint with Bayern Munich in 1991, but his advice, as his son's agent, contributed to his wise decision to move to Europe and link up with Leipzig in 2016.
"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," said Leipzig's sporting director Ralf Rangnick following Bernardo's arrival. "In the last six months he showed at Salzburg that he has potential, and he has the sort of attributes that we want to see here. His signing means that we have much more squad depth in defence."
Bernardo took to Leipzig and the Bundesliga like a duck to the proverbial water. After playing and scoring in the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League in July, he arrived in Leipzig already match-ready and he was a regular until a meniscus injury picked up at the end of October set him back. He returned to start the final nine games of the season, amassing a total of 27 appearances in his and Leipzig's maiden Bundesliga season.
It is unsurprising he was so popular, with an air of Luiz Gustavo about him. Like his compatriot, who also plied his trade at Bayern Munich and is now captain of Wolfsburg, flexibility is Bernardo's middle name.
"I love playing in the middle, but I can also play as full-back, forward – even goalkeeper if the coach says he needs me there," he joked to the Bild newspaper in an interview conducted in German, only months after he arrived in Leipzig. "But I'm a relatively tall player and my favourite position is definitely centre-back."
He played most of his games for Leipzig at right full-back, but was not out of his depth when he switched over to the left. In a side who conceded just 39 goals in 34 games – fewer than all but Bayern Munich and Hoffenheim – it cannot be denied that Bernardo was a stabilising influence, despite his youth.
His reward? More Champions League football next season, this time with the guarantee of elite opponents in the group stage. "It doesn't matter who we get – they are all going to be great games," said the versatile defender. "I would really like Real Madrid, though, because they're the biggest team in the world for me."
Coming from one of world football's biggest nations, it only stands to reason, therefore, that he does not only intend to face the best in his career. He has every intention of being on the same team as the best. "Every Brazilian would love to play for the Selecao," he said. "Me too. But it's still too soon. It could be possible after the 2018 World Cup in Russia, if I continue to take steps forward here at Leipzig."
In the meantime, Bernardo is taking his next steps at Leipzig, hoping to confirm those already taken in his first full season in the Bundesliga and add even greater ones in Europe. "The Brazilians love our story here at Leipzig," Bernardo said. "When you write such a great story as part of a small club, you really steal the Brazilians' hearts."
Not only Brazilian hearts have been stolen by what Bernardo and Leipzig have achieved, and it is still only the beginning for both of them.