Cologne - Every title-winning team boasts heroes within their ranks. 2014/15 champions FC Bayern München have Manuel Neuer, the world’s best No1 providing the last line of defence, the irrepressible Arjen Robben wreaking havoc amongst opposition backlines and plenty more besides in a team made up of world champions and world class talent. Therefore, it’s all the more astonishing that Juan Bernat, a relatively unheard of prospect, has battled his way into becoming a first-team regular in the record titleholders’ elite line-up.
‘He’s going through a world-class development’
Signed from Valencia CF in the summer, few German football experts knew what to make of the then 21-year-old moving to Bavaria. Being a left-footed wing-back, the general assumption was that the Spaniard would provide some much needed cover for established left-back David Alaba.
However, head coach Pep Guardiola had other ideas come the start of the season, throwing Bernat in at the deep end as he completed the full 90 minutes in a 2-1 win over VfL Wolfsburg on Matchday 1. It proved a sign of things to come, with only Neuer playing more minutes thus far in FC Bayern’s second successive title defence (2,520) than Pep’s new favourite pupil (2,285).
Even Guardiola, an admirer of his compatriot's qualities, was taken aback by the impact the young Spaniard has made in his debut Bundesliga campaign. “I didn’t know he was this good. He always plays with lethal quality and is incredibly fast,” the 44-year-old said in a recent interview with Die Welt, sentiments that were echoed by sporting director Matthias Sammer who claimed “[Bernat] is going through a world-class development”.
Always on the run
The question of whether it would be Bernat or Alaba was answered by Guardiola, who opted to make use of Bernat and Alaba in a new tactically flexible system that often saw Bernat shifted into a more advanced wing-back role on the left flank, which allowed him to play to his strengths: dynamism, positional awareness and the ability to take on his man in the final third.
Much has been made of his speed, but stamina plays just as important a role in the 22-year-old’s game. Bernat, who scored his only Bundesliga goal to date in the 4-1 loss to Wolfsburg on Matchday 18, has completed more sprints (712) than any other member of FC Bayern’s star-studded squad, while only Thomas Müller has covered more distance than the unheralded talent (280.3km).
‘Like a dream’
A further noteworthy quality possessed by the Spaniard is his fairness. In his 28 top-flight appearances, Bernat has committed just 11 fouls at an average of one every 208 minutes, picking up just one booking, statistics that also speak to his above-average understanding of the game and his skill in the tackle. The clichéd concept of players needing time to adapt certainly doesn’t seem to apply to the Bavarians’ new first-choice left-back.
“How things have gone so far for has been like a dream. At just 21 years of age I dared to take the next step in a new country, in a new league and then everything was great straight from the get-go as I became a permanent fixture in this super team. All my expectations were exceeded,” was the summary given by a delighted Bernat to FC Bayern’s club magazine back in mid-February.
Future glories guaranteed
A by-product of his outstanding form for the German record titleholders, Bernat was also handed his international debut for Spain earlier this season, grabbing the final goal in a 4-0 win against Luxembourg on 12 October 2014 in a UEFA EURO 2016 qualifier.
With his wins-per-appearance ratio capable of rivalling Robben, who set a Bundesliga best mark by breaking the 100-win mark at the 126th time of asking on Matchday 24, Bernat’s first season in Bavaria could hardly have gone any better. However, though dreams of a treble have dissipated this season, the hunger to win titles has not and, following his incredible ascendency, few would begrudge Juan Bernat the winners' medals his future undoubtedly holds.