PAULO BERNARDO’S form appears to have taken a worrying dip in the overall decline in Celtic standards in the past few weeks.
At the turn of the year, there was a well-supported clamour for Brendan Rodgers not to hesitate for the merest second and pay the reported £6million it would take to secure the on-loan playmaker’s permanent switch from Benfica in the summer.
I was preparing to swallow great dollops of humble pie after I asked if Bernardo was, in fact, Oliver Abildgaard with a better tan, as reported in Alex’s Angle in CQN on December 2.
I was referring, of course, to the towering Danish midfielder – admittedly an entirely different type of player to the more delicate Portuguese performer – who saw his season-long move come to an abrupt end in January last year when Ange Postecoglou pointed the way to the Parkhead exit.
WALLOP…Paul Bernardo thunders Celtic into the lead with an unstoppable drive in the 2-1 derby triumph at Parkhead in December.
I hadn’t seen anything in Bernardo’s play to suggest he might not suffer a similar fate from Brendan Rodgers, but the 22-year-old middle-of-the-park operator sparked to life in the 3-0 win over Dundee at Dens Park on Boxing Day.
Even better, four days later in the derby collision in the east end of Glasgow, Paulo displayed perfection in his timing as he thrashed a sublime drive away from the stranded Jack Butland for the breakthrough strike in the team’s 2-1 victory.
I could hardly believe I was witnessing the same individual who continually got his feet in a tangle against Ross County in Dingwall several weeks earlier when passers-by in the street outside the ground were under more threat than oppositing keeper Ross Laidlaw when Bernardo decided to have a go.
Against Philippe Clement’s Ibrox outfit, Bernardo played his part in a match that will clearly assume crucial importance at the end of the campaign.
KNOCK ON WOOD…Paulo Bernardo lobs the ball over Aberdeen keeper Kelle Roos, but hits the crossbar in the 1-1 draw at Pittodrie earlier this month.
However, the player has lasted the entire game only once – against Buckie Thistle – in the seven encounters since 2024 was welcomed and was a second-half substitute  for Adam Idah in the two most recent matches against St Mirren, the 2-0 Scottish Cup win in Paisley, and the 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock at Parkhead.
Of course, it is grossly unfair to point the finger at Paulo for the miserable result against Killie – and, remember, like the rest of us, he was a spectator before his 68th-minute introduction – but the entire dynamic of the match would have changed if he had showed a little more composure late on as he skied one over the crossbar from 12 yards.
The Portuguese artist is obviously someone who thrives on confidence – and, unfortunately, that precious commodity appears to be in short supply among the ranks of the champions at the moment.
Bernardo looks a pale imitation of the player who strode with menace and purpose onto a headed clearance from Abdallah Sima from a Luis Palma right-wing corner-kick in the 25th minute at Celtic Park on December 30.
OH, NO…Paulo Bernardo shows his frustration after squandering a superb opportunity in the 1-1 stalemate with Kilmarnock.
On the occasion, the ball was a blur as soon as it sped from his right boot on the edge of the box and zeroed in on its destination to almost rip the net from the stanchion behind Butland.
And then we witnessed the same player waywardly hitting an effort high and wide when he virtually had the entire goal from which to choose with Kilmarnock keeper Will Dennis scrambling and going through the motions.
In two separate incidents at the same venue in the space of eight games, the problem with Paulo was illuminated.
Assuming a deal could be settled with his parent club, can Bernardo be trusted with a five-year contract at Celtic? Or will he suffer the same fate as Abildgaard?
Time will tell – and that is another priceless commodity that could fast be running out for Portuguese midfielder.
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