‘I needed to be challenged’ – How the Manchester United starlet was transformed by a loan
Playing for Manchester United at youth level is the dream of any young player who grows up with the dream of someday succeeding in the world of professional football.
Right now, United’s senior squad are teeming with talent that has been nurtured into the club’s illustrious academy system, and last week Charlie Savage and Zidane Iqbal became the 245th and 246th graduates of the club. academy to reach the first team, entering as substitutes against Young Garçons.
Their first glimpse into senior football might be the start of something special at Old Trafford, but the harsh reality is that even after representing the first team very few prospects manage to make them a permanent promotion at such a young age. .
It’s a feeling young defender Di’Shon Bernard knows well.
He made his debut two years ago in the same vein as Savage and Iqbal, as part of a makeshift squad that faced Kazakhstan’s Astana side in a Europa League draw when qualifying was obtained.
Bernard, 21, scored an unfortunate own-side goal on that arctic night at Nur-Sultan, but it was an important part of the journey which now sees him playing regular football in the league at such a tender age.
The United youngster was first impressed with a one-season loan with Salford a year ago, where he played 29 times for the League Two side, before returning for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side in pre-season.
He played in a friendly against championship duo Derby and Queens Park Rangers, signing a new long-term contract before embarking on a second tier loan in the next stage of his career.
“It was a good time for me personally,” he told MEN Sport in an exclusive interview. “It’s a good step for me.
“The quality has definitely improved. There is a lot more football on the pitch which has been good, but you just know you have to be on at all times. A mistake can end in a goal. Some have good quality players here, some have been in the Prem so you always have to be turned on and focused because you can get punished.
“From a competition point of view, everyone, Ligue 2, the championship, everyone is working hard to win. So the competition has remained the same, but the quality that you can see is different.”
Two weeks ago he faced arguably his toughest test yet when he faced Andy Carroll, who is now at Reading.
Bernard impressed again as his side fought back to earn a decent away point, in a six-game unbeaten streak with the young defender still having to pinch himself as he faced off against football stars that ‘he used to watch TV at home.
“You can see they played at the top level,” he said of Carroll. “Just their quality and movement is something you really watch. I feel like I played well against them; I feel like I left my mark on them and challenged them really well.”
As with any young loaner, Bernard is in regular contact with United’s loan staff, who give him regular feedback on his performance and add his own suggestions he can focus on.
The former Chelsea youngster is also helped by two close friends Teden Mengi and James Garner, who embarked on championship loans themselves last season and offered invaluable advice on what to expect in second division.
“Me and Teden are still talking,” he said. “Obviously there was also Jim (James Garner) in the championship last season, so we’re still talking. Always ask questions about how they find him. They gave me their advice on that, and that helped. been a big help getting into this season. “
With Mengi back in the ranks of young United ahead of a loan in the January window, Garner is on the rise in his second season at Nottingham Forest. This weekend, he will face Bernard as Hull visits the City Ground on Saturday afternoon.
“I already told him to watch over me!” Obviously, when we step on the field, we are no longer friends, as I already told him, so it’s going to be a good challenge.
Garner and Bernard have spent the past five years playing together at a youth level since the latter left Chelsea, and this weekend the young defender is hoping to surprise his friend by showing how much he’s learned in senior football .
“I think vocally I definitely improved,” he said. “My positioning and passing range has improved as well. It’s something that I got in and the coaching staff worked with me. I’m just trying to improve day by day. There is definitely a lot. room for improvement, and hopefully this season I can work on those things. “
If he hadn’t been on loan, Bernard might have played for United last week in that Young Boys game, but he has made it clear this summer that he wants another spell from the club as he seeks to break out of the youth football security bubble.
“Obviously when you hit the Under-23s and start playing every week you realize that doesn’t test you anymore,” admitted Bernard. “You have to be challenged. The loan system has always been something that has fascinated me.
“I know everyone’s development is different. Not everyone can get into the first team, so you have to go on loan and really learn your trade. That’s what I tried to do.
“It’s a great way to develop, to have a bunch of league games under your belt. So it’s something that interests me and I encourage a lot of young players to do the same.”
With 47 Football League appearances to his name, Bernard is the perfect example of how a wise loan can help accelerate a career.
Despite his young age, he shows great maturity in the way he approaches his development and he believes that there are other young people who could benefit from following in his footsteps.
“I think sometimes when you’re young you can be a little naive and you’re like, ‘I don’t want to be loaned to a lower league club’ because you grow up with a little big club ego. ‘ , he said. “But you have to realize that every path is different. Sometimes you have to do Ligue 2 or Ligue 1 and then come back up again. That’s definitely something that I encourage.
“At the moment it’s the best football I’ve played. I knew when I came in that the league was at a good level. It’s definitely a step I had to take.”
In recent weeks, discussions have circulated regarding a possible international call-up for Bernard, who qualifies to play for Jamaica through his father.
His case is helped by the fact that the island nation is currently managed by former Hull midfielder Theodore Whitmore, although the London-born Bernard insists he is keeping his international options open.
“I’ve said it before, I’m open to playing for Jamaica, open to playing for England,” he insisted. “Every time they call, I’m ready.”
While the long-term dream might be international involvement, at the moment Bernard is only focused on keeping Hull in the championship. A victory this weekend over his close friend Garner would be a big step in the right direction.
He concluded: “My goal? Just to improve and keep playing. As a central defender you need a lot of games under your belt to reach the top level. It all comes with experience. The more I play. more games, the more experience I get. The goal is definitely to play a lot of games and keep learning from each other. “
Two years after his only senior appearance at United, it’s safe to say that Bernard is on track to add to it in the future.