PAULO BERNARDO has one game left to convince Brendan Rodgers he is worth £6.3million and a permanent deal at Celtic.

The Portuguese playmaker has seen his fortunes fluctuate on the Parkhead rollercoaster since his season-long loan switch from Benfica was signed in late August last year.

The word is that the Irishman has been impressed by Bernardo – but the Hoops hierarchy are likely to attempt to negotiate with their Lisbon counterparts to drive down the asking price, as CQN revealed back on March.

The former Under-21 international, scorer of six goals in 21 appearances for his nation at this level, has proved to be a shrewd temporary transfer in the team’s third successive title-winning campaign.

GREEN FOR GO…Paulo Bernardo poses on his first day at Celtic following his loan deal from Benfica.

With influential middle-of-the-park performers Callum McGregor and Reo Hatate suffering injuries to keep them out of contention for first-team starts – with the Japanese ace only getting into his stride in the last couple of weeks – Bernardo has been invaluable in slotting into the vacant positions.

The easy-on-the-eye operator kick-started his Hoops career in the 3-0 win over Dundee at Dens Park on Boxing Day when he scored his first Celtic goal and delivered an all-round impressive performance.

He kept his place for the visit of Philippe Clement’s Ibrox outfit four days later at Parkhead and Bernardo got the show on the road with a blistering first-time drive from the edge of the box that left Jack 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 that swirled high into the keeper’s top left-hand corner of the net.

Bernardo was a regular pick for the top side at the start of this year and started the first five games before dropping to the substitutes’ bench for the Scottish Cup-tie against St Mirren in Paisley on February 11.

BREAKTHROUGH STRIKE…Paulo Bernardo forces in Celtic’s opener in the 3-0 win over Dundee at Dens Park on Boxing Day.

However, he did make an appearance as a 62nd-minute substitute for Adam 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 got the nod to replace hamstring victim McGregor.

With the champions’ inspirational captain sidelined, Bernardo 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.

In fact, his appearance in the victory over the Perth club on March 16 was his last in the starting line-up this season.

Bernardo came off the bench in four successive matches, including the topsy-turvy 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 after an error-strewn performance in the 3-3 extra-time stalemate with the Dons.

PAULO IN PARADISE…Bernardo thumps in Celtic’s first goal in the 2-1 derby win on December 30.

With Hatate picking up speed after his season-shredding injury, the Portuguese player remained on the bench for the 2-1 victory over Tony Docherty’s Dens men on Tayside on April 28.

There was a brief came 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 11 days ago.

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 a week ago 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.

Now all eyes are on the Scottish Cup Final against Rangers on Saturday, an occasion where he could showcase his undoubted talents – but unless there is an injury situation of which no-one is aware concerning McGregor, O’Riley or Hatate then the best Bernardo can hope for is an outing off the bench.

So, we have just about reached that stage when we ask the question: Deal or no deal?

JOY BHOYS…Paulo Bernardo and Matt O’Riley celebrate the Portuguese star’s goal in the 3-0 win at Livingston on March 31.

There are pluses and minuses to take into consideration, but one of the main ones for the manager will be the X Factor.

WILL McGregor, who will be 31 by the time the new season kicks off in August, stay clear of the sort of injury that came close to derailing his contribution this time around?

WILL Hatate be completely free of the problems that beset the Japanese star for a huge chunk of this campaign?

WILL O’Riley still be a Celtic player next season? There is bound to be interest in the London-born Danish international performer after an exceptional and consistent parade of his qualities, with 19 goals thrown in for good measure.

Rodgers has much to deliberate before Bernardo’s loan contract officially expires on June 30.

The haggling between the powerbrokers in Glasgow and Lisbon will hopefully have reached a satisfactory conclusion and the smooth midfielder, who has terms until the summer of 2027 at his parent club, will know what the future holds in store.

From a personal perspective, I’ve seen enough of Bernardo to believe he has something to contribute to Celtic – especially when you make allowances for the fickle elements that await any team as they attempt to negotiate a path through soccer’s minefield.







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