Le50 2016: Paul Bernardoni – Girondins de Bordeaux/ES Troyes AC
A fire-sale is usually a bad sign. Troyes had come up to Ligue 1 with high hopes as Ligue 2 champions, but received a rude awakening back at the top table. Having played only one game for them in 2014/15, Paul Bernardoni was just 18 when he was handed his first taste of Ligue 1 – a clean sheet in their first match back in the top tier, a goalless draw against fellow promotees Gazelec Ajaccio. He was replaced by Dennis Petric for the next nine games – in which they conceded 19 and collected only three more points – before becoming the first choice, despite wearing the number 40. He conceded two a game in this thirteen-game run, but as with many doomed teams, was often Troyes’ best player as they shipped defeat after defeat.
Then, January – Petric was sold to Angers as the window opened. Bernardoni looked set to play out the rest of Troyes’ already inevitable relegation run as first choice, despite rumours linking him with Chelsea, amongst others, which could have seen him loaned back to his parent club while they cashed some much-needed pre-drop funds. However, late in January a knee injury to Bordeaux’s Cedric Carrasso escalated matters, and he was loaned to les Girondins until the end of the season.
Bernadoni’s rise to Ligue 1 starter was slightly unexpected given his limited Ligue 2 experience after coming up through the Troyes youth system from the age of 16. However during that time, he had established himself in the national set-up at U17, U18, and now U19 levels. For a youth team to have a keeper with such experience is a definite plus, as shown in his performance in Euro qualifying, conceding just two goals in five games, and none in the elite round in March 2016 when France beat Montenegro, Denmark and Serbia. He looks set to be the starting keeper of choice as they head to Germany for the final tournament in July.
Unlike some young goalkeepers who do look a little callow, getting people to guess how old Bernadoni is normally gets you a result in the late twenties at lowest, but it’s not just in appearance that he seems old for his age. His maturity when thrown right in at the deep end with Troyes, and then moving to such a historied club as Bordeaux, demonstrates a strong character.
Even when conceding plenty, there is never a feeling of him giving up – shortly before his transfer to Bordeaux, he pulled off a series of fabulous saves against Rennes, who amassed 13 shots on target, the highest this season apart from PSG’s 9-0 drubbing of ESTAC in game 30. Admittedly Rennes scored four, but Bernardoni’s quick reactions in close-range situations as well as great positioning and elevation on long-range screamers prevented an absolute hiding similar to the PSG game.
This composure may finally have been dented after his move to Bordeaux. Ironically, given Troyes’ habit of shipping goals like there is no this evening, let alone tomorrow, when Bernardoni was started for seven games after his loan move, he conceded 18, significantly worse than his performance for ESTAC, despite his new club having a better calibre of defender, at least on paper. It seems likely that this was down to unfamiliarity with the new set-up, but conceding four to Saint-Etienne, Reims and Toulouse is not a good look, and he was benched for Jerome Prior after the Toulouse match.
Being a starter for a team with European ambitions – albeit not likely this season – is a different proposition than being a firefighter for a newly promoted side always likely to struggle, but Bernardoni has shown great determination in both. Now, he also needs to look ahead to a third role, as backstop for a strong international team in a key tournament.