PAULO BERNARDO signed off the season by leaving the Celtic fans smiling.

One of the last kicks of the on-loan Benfica midfielder’s season-long loan stint at the champions was to have a decisive say in the Hoops winning the Scottish Cup for the second successive year.

It was Bernardo who picked up a reverse pass from Daizen Maeda in the centre circle before sidestepping a clumsy challenge from the lunging Nico Raskin before surging purposefully towards the Ibrox penalty area.

As the defenders backed off, the Portuguese playmaker continued on his solo mission before unleashing a 25-yard drive at goal.

FULL SPEED AHEAD…Paulo Bernardo takes off for enemy territory as Nico Raskin struggles to keep up. The powerful surge ended with Adam Idah firing in Celtic’s Scottish Cup winner.

Jack Butland was totally flummoxed by the effort as it dipped and swerve and the keeper could only manage to parry it away. The ball fell invitingly for the alert Adam Idah who had left Leon Balogun and Ben Davies in his slipstream before thumping the rebound into the net.

With the clock ticking down, there was no way back for the opposition and Brendan Rodgers’ players celebrating a league and Cup double in the Hampden sunshine.

Before heading home to Lisbon, Bernardo took to Instagram to thank the Celtic fans with the message: “Grateful for this season. Thank you very very much for all the support.”

Now, of course, the question is: Will the champions move to make the stylish midfielder’s stay a more permanent one and meet his parent club’s asking price of £6.3million?

The 22-year-old performer started the Cup Final on the substitutes’ bench before making a 79th-minute appearance for the toiling Reo Hatate.

There is no argument the former Portual Under-21 international added some much-needed drive and pep to the team’s engine room.

HOOP HOOP HOORAY…Paulo Bernardo celebrates his goal in Celtic’s 3-0 win at Livingston in March.

Bernardo proved to be a valuable member of Rodgers’ first-team squad throughout the campaign, espeically with the long-term injury to Hatate and then skipper Callum McGregor’s enforced spell on the sidelines after the turn of the year.

The loanee scored his first Hoops goal in the 3-0 win over Dundee at Dens Park on Boxing Day and he kept his place for the derby encounter four days later at Parkhead.

The easy-on-the-eye operator got the show on the road with a blistering first-time drive from the edge of the box that left Butland clawing air.

Rodgers’ men went on to triumph 2-1 with Kyogo Furuhashi claiming the winner with an equally-breathtaking strike from outside the box.

Bernardo was a regular pick for the top side in January and started the first five games before dropping to the bench for the Scottish Cup-tie against St Mirren in Paisley on February 11.

DERBY DELIGHT…Paulo Bernardo fires in the crucial breakthrough strike in the 2-1 win over Rangers at Parkhead in December.

However, he did make an appearance as a 62nd-minute substitute for Idah with the trophy holders easing to a 2-0 victory with strikes from Kyogo and Daizen Maeda.

There were two more outings from the bench in the 1-1 home draw against Kilmarnock and the 3-1 win over Motherwell at Fir Park before there was no show in the 7-1 romp against Dundee in the east end of Glasgow where teen ace Daniel Kelly replaced hamstring victim McGregor at the interval.

Bernardo, though, was in at the kick-off for the next three games – Hearts (0-2), Livingston (4-2) and St Johnstone (3-1) – before dropping to the stand-by squad. His appearance in the victory over the Perth club on March 16 was his last in the starting line-up this season.

He came off the bench in four successive matches, including the dramatic 3-3 deadlock in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen where he netted one of the penalty-kicks as Rodgers’ men squeezed through 6-5 in the spot-kick shoot-out.

With Hatate picking up speed on the comeback trail, the Portuguese ace remained on the bench for the 2-1 victory over Tony Docherty’s Dens men on Tayside on April 28.

FANFARE…Paulo Bernardo salutes the Celtic support.

There was a brief cameo role as a replacement for McGregor in the 3-0 success over Hearts in Glasgow at the beginning of this month, but he remained among the back-up pool for the vital 2-1 win in the derby at Parkhead.

Bernardo came on in the 74th minute for two-goal Matt O’Riley in the 5-0 title-clinching triumph over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park and there was another outing as a 77th-minute replacement for McGregor in the 3-2 win over St Mirren as the curtain came down on another successful crusade at Parkhead.

The smooth ball artiste is under contract at the Lisbon giants until June 2027 and we have reached the stage where Rodgers has to make up his mind.

If the gaffer gives the thumbs up it then time for the Hoops hierarchy to negotiate with Benfica for their player.

It’s a similar scenario to two years ago when Filipe Jota persuaded the Hoops to part with £6.5million after his impressive season-long temporary switch.

Twelve months later, Celtic, after winning their eighth domestic treble, received £25million from Saudi Arabia for the fans’ favourite.

Bye-bye? Or buy buy? We’ll discover the answer soon enough.

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