Bernardo Ribeiro spoke exclusively to newcastlejets.com.au about making his A-League debut in front of 35,419 fans last Saturday.
Almost all the talk following last Saturday-s blockbuster match between the Newcastle Jets and Sydney FC has been about the eye-catching performances of big name marquees Emile Heskey and Alessandro Del Piero.
Rightly so. The pair lived up to the pre-match hype as they both found the back of the net in front of 35,419 fans at Allianz Stadium.
However, almost as crucial in the outcome of the game as the goals scored by Heskey and Del Piero, was the desperate goal-line clearance by the Jets- diminutive Brazilian Bernardo Ribeiro late in the contest.
Playing his first ever match in the A-League, Bernardo came on as a 64th minute substitute, replacing James Virgili with the Jets holding a 3-1 lead.
However, not long after Bernardo-s introduction Sydney got a goal back through Blake Powell to make it 3-2. This left the Jets on the back foot and gave Sydney plenty of momentum as they went in search of a late equaliser.
As pressure on the Jets- defence mounted, the Sky Blues won a corner in the 78th minute that was whipped in by Del Piero. Sydney striker Kruno Lovrek got to the ball first and directed it towards goal with a let-footed strike.
The ball looked destined for the top corner, but Bernardo leapt high and desperately headed the ball away from danger to preserve the Jets- lead.
“Before I went on, the assistant coach told me to stay on the post at corners and the luckily I was able to save the goal with my header,” Bernardo said.
“Of course I always like to score a goal or make an assist, but my first thought is always to help the team the best way I can.
“On Saturday I was able to help the team in defence and I was very happy because we got three points away from home.”
The attacking midfielder said he relished every moment of his debut game for the Jets.
“It was an unbelievable experience. There was a full stadium and the game was very, very hard. They scored not long after I came on and it was tough in the last 15 minutes, but we did well to hold our lead and we showed a lot of heart.
“It was a great atmosphere and a great day, especially for all the Jets fans and we are very thankful for their support.”
Saturday-s fixture was just the latest chapter in an intriguing story that has already taken Bernardo across the globe in pursuit of his football career. But as the 23-year-old from Rio de Janeiro tells it, he was never really interested in an alternative profession.
“In Brazil, when we are kids growing up, everyone wants to play football,” he explains.
“Everything is about football. There are football pitches everywhere; you play football at school and in the streets. For Christmas, you get given a football to play with and everyone-s dream is to play football.
“If you can-t play football for a living, it-s only then that you think about studying or doing something else.
“I think that-s the reason why we-ve produced so many world-class players over the years.”
Even before his 10th birthday, Bernardo had already been touted as a talented prospect by world-renowned Brazilian club Flamengo.
He spent over a decade learning his trade at the club, which has also been home to superstars such as Zico, Romario and Ronaldinho. He fondly recalls the once in a lifetime opportunity he had to play a match at football-s Mecca, the Maracana.
“I arrived at Flamengo when I was nine years old and spent 10 years of my life there,” Bernardo recalls.
“I played with a big-name player in Adriano who was there at the time and we won the Brazilian Championship in 2009. It was a perfect experience for me to play at Flamengo.
“I played one game at the Maracana in front of 45,000 spectators in the Brazilian Youth Championship. I think the Maracana is most famous stadium in the world. It will be the stadium for the World Cup final and it was a very, very good experience for me to play there.”
When his time at Flamengo came to an end, Bernardo tried his luck in Europe and spent six months at Serie A club Catania, where he had his first brush with Del Piero.
“I was in two games only, but for me it was a very good experience because I got to train and play with players from the first division in Italy,” he said.
“I was on the bench for a game against Juventus and I got to see Del Piero play. Now I have had the chance to play against him and it is unbelievable.”
A two-year stint with Albanian Superliga side Skënderbeu followed his time in Italy. “I was lucky enough to win two championships while I was in Albania and to play in the Champions League qualifying matches against Apoel. It was a good experience for my career,” he said
“We started winning and then one day I went to go shopping and everyone wanted to take photos and I could hardly walk through the shops. It was different for me because never before had I experienced this.”
Despite his team-s success in Albania, Bernardo said he jumped at the opportunity to move down under when the Newcastle Jets came calling.
He is hopeful the 2012/13 season with the Jets will be as memorable as any of the other experiences he has already had throughout his short professional career.
“When I got the call from the Newcastle Jets I didn-t even think two times about coming here and now I-m very happy to be in Australia,” he said.
“I-m 100% certain that we have a team that can win the Championship. We have the right mix of young players and experienced players and now with Emile here it is unbelievable.”