Vincenzo Bernardo has played in three different countries, including in Italy with Napoli, counts fellow American Italian star Giuseppe Rossi as one of his fans and runs his own football camp. It is easy to forget that Vincenzo is only 21.
After coming through the youth ranks at Metrostars in America, now the New York Red Bulls, Bernardo has had spells with Napoli and Austrian side FC Hochst but now finds himself without a club. Bernardo sits down with Football Italiano to reflect on his footballing experience across several countries, to talk about becoming a free agent and to hint at where he might be playing next season.
Bernardo was successfully scouted for New Jersey’s Olympic Development Program at 15 and quickly caught the eye of several clubs. After joining the Metrostars Youth system, it took just one year for Bernardo to be scouted by and subsequently sign for Napoli – a dream move for the American Italian whose family originate from the city.
“I got my first taste at a professional club [at Metrostars]. I learnt a lot and it was important for me to be part of a team that takes football seriously,” he recalls in our previous interview in March.
“But the place to play soccer is in Europe. My family is from Napoli and I remember going on vacation there when I was younger and I watched their games on TV. My family all support the team.
“When I was 16, I was approached from four or five different clubs. But when I heard Napoli wanted me, it was a dream come true for everybody. I couldn’t decline that offer.”
The chance to play at one of the biggest clubs in Italy proved to be more than just a good move for his family, it was also where Bernardo admits he developed as a player: “[At Napoli] I learned the real game of soccer – how it’s played and how it’s thought about. It’s very tactical and as a player I developed a great deal technically. I learned how to become a professional on and off the field.”
Bernardo’s time with Napoli also gifted him with what he counts as one of the highlight moments of his short career so far: “In one particular game I got called up for a friendly match with the first team and I scored. That was a big deal for me as it was my first goal. Even though it was a friendly, it was my first goal with Serie A players.”
However, Bernardo’s rapid development in Italy would suffer a setback. The forward exercised a clause in his three-year contract with Napoli which allowed him to leave the club after the first year. The move came after the youngster decided to reject a loan move to Serie C2 side A.C. Monopoli.
Bernardo eventually signed for Serie D team Nola Calcio but financial problems forced him to terminate his contract with Nola at the beginning of the season – leaving him without a club for six months.
“I was with Napoli at 18 and when I left the club, I had no experience and I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t have the right people around me telling me what was right and what was wrong and that was the reason why I lost a good amount of time switching teams.”
Bernardo went on trials with clubs around Europe, including English Championship side Watford, but eventually decided to sign for Austrian side FC Hochst in February 2011.
It proved to be a vital move. The highly talented forward not only ended the past season scoring eight goals in a total of 18 games and setting a new league record for the fastest goal, but importantly, Bernardo was able to prove to himself that he still had the ability to play at a professional level.
“After leaving Napoli and after having six months of trials and not playing with a team, I wanted to prove to myself that I could still play at a high level,” Bernardo admits.
“I got a good amount of games and earned a starting spot. It’s difficult coming in January into a new team with a language barrier and never having played in Austria. I came to play and that’s exactly what I got at Hochst. It helped my morale and confidence.”
Bernardo’s time in Austria also helped him acquire new skills: “I’ve always played as a supporting striker, attacking midfielder or forward but with Hochst we had to play very defensively.
“We played a 4-1-4-1, and they put me out wide on the right hand side and it was a pure outside midfield role where I had to go box to box, defend and attack. There was a lot of running and I wasn’t used to it at first. But I definitely don’t regret it and it helped me a lot.”
The move to Austria’s third division has been central to reviving Bernardo’s career and has earned him praise from American journalists and players alike, including fellow New Jersey born and Italy international Rossi, who sends the youngster regular encouraging tweets.
After a successful six-month stint in Europe, Bernardo has returned to his hometown of New Jersey to teach at his third annual football camp. The summer program, which was created by the 21-year-old, aims to give young aspiring American players the benefit of European style training with the help of American and Italian coaches. Former trainers at the camp include Napoli coaches, Pietro DeLuca and Antonio Balsamo, who also scout for the likes of Roma, Lazio and Juventus.
Although Bernardo has been occupied with his camp this summer, he has also been looking ahead and focusing on his future. The 21-year-old is a free agent following the expiration of his contract with Hochst, which gives rise to many questions: what does he plan to do next? Has he heard of interest from any clubs? Would he consider returning to America or would he prefer to stay in Europe?
“I’m very open. I’m young but everybody knows I’ve played in different places and I have a lot of experience so it’s not a problem where I play.
“I’m definitely looking for something with the same situation as Hochst where I can get a good amount of games and continue playing. I just need to play. We’re looking at a few teams.
“MLS [Major League Soccer] is an option. It’s very difficult to come into the MLS and be an impact player and to get games and minutes so maybe the USL [United Soccer Leagues] option. I can’t really close the door on Europe though because after a season in Austria and doing well, there’s always interest there as well.”
With experience and the right people around him, the young forward seems to have a clear idea about how he wants to continue developing his career. And for Bernardo, that could well mean venturing to new countries to further enhance his skills – even to leagues where he admits the style of football does not suit his play.
“Countries like Spain, Italy and Portugal favour my kind of play but with this experience in Austria, I think I did pretty well.
“I would exercise the idea of going to England too. It’s been three years now [since Watford] and I’ve definitely developed physically, technically, tactically – in every way in the game. England is a very nice place to play.”
Bernardo confirms he has a window of a month to make a decision about where he will play next season. However, the American Italian avoids revealing the names of any clubs who he is currently in talks with, only reiterating his desire to one-day return to Italy.
“It’s pretty tight right now, it’s about 30 days. We’ll see what happens in 30 days. I enjoyed Italy. There’s always something inside me that wants to be and play in Italy now or in the near future.”
You can read more about Vincenzo Bernardo on his brand new website, or via his official Twitter page.
Vaishali Bhardwaj is a sports journalist based in London and specialises in English, Spanish and French football. She currently writes for FourFourTwo and Clean Sheets All Round and has previously written for BBC Sport, The Guardian and The Times.
Vaishali also co-presents Beyond the Pitch’s weekly show, World Football Insider, and works as a radio host in England. For more information or to contact Vaishali, please see her official website, Facebook page and Twitter page.