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Olivier Bernard Interview

Taken from The Telegraph website 15.03.03


Bernard graduates from school of hard knocks

Olivier Bernard has emerged from the shadows at St James' Park to develop a reputation as one of the Premiership's brightest left-backs with impressive performances for Newcastle United on European football's most daunting stage.

An eye-catching display in the 2-2 draw with Inter Milan at the San Siro on Tuesday underlined the promise of the young Parisian whose English adventure began in earnest in far less grandiose surroundings than those offered by the Champions League or the Premiership.

His first real taste of English football was an invaluable experience, turning out for Darlington in a Third Division defeat at York City's Bootham Crescent on March 13, 2001.

Bernard, 23, joined Newcastle from Lyons in Oct 2000. After showing potential in the reserves, he headed down the A1 to Darlington for a 10-game stint.

"That was one of the best times I've had in England, he said. "I learned English football in Darlington."

"No one could forget George Reynolds [the chairman] but there were a lot of players who helped me. We had a really good team and I was very happy to play for them."

After that apprenticeship, Bernard earned a place the first-team squad at Newcastle and appeared as a substitute in the InterToto Cup against Lokeren in July 2001. His first Premiership start, five months later, was crowned with a goal from a 30-yard shot against Blackburn.

"When I arrived in Newcastle I could hardly speak English," Bernard said. "I had studied it at school but was not very good, so I spent six months at university in Newcastle to improve my English.

"I love living and spending time in Newcastle, it's a great city. The best thing about it is the people. They're very friendly and it shocked me on my first night out when people I didn't know just came over and said hello. It made me think this was a very nice town. I have quite a few good friends here now."

Sir Bobby Robson, the Newcastle manager, fought off West Ham United's advances last summer and the unsettled Bernard was persuaded to sign a three-year contract and adopt a new role.

"Having done all the spadework and made him a better player, we weren't prepared to let anyone just come in and take him away," Robson said. "He has made big strides and was very good in Milan. He's in the team and has shown he was worth fighting for. He has a ferocious left foot, a strong right foot, he's a fine player who is strong and quick."

Bernard's defensive qualities will be tested at the Valley today when Newcastle face a Charlton Athletic side seeking UEFA Cup football. "They're on a marvellous run and over the last 10 Premiership games are probably top of the league," Robson said.

Bernard added: "Everything is going very well for me at the moment because the team are playing well and I'm happy to be in the team at an exciting time for everyone at Newcastle. The gaffer is just the best and knows football better than anyone. He's a great manager and has helped me develop my game. At the beginning I was not a left-back but he has taught me how to defend, and now I think I'm doing well.

"I enjoy playing on the left but I think I prefer midfield. I'm an attacking player and I'm better going forward than playing defensively.

"We have a very young team but the gaffer is the type of coach who, when you don't feel right or you make a mistake, will come to see you and try to sort things out.

"He is very close to us. When you are not in the team you sometimes need to speak to the manager to find out what you need to do to get back in. Every time we ask to see him he says 'okay, no problem' after lunch or whenever he has got time.

"He's always out on the training pitch and tries to get a touch of the ball whenever he can. He's 70 now, and I would love to be like that at his age."

With high-profile games coming thick and fast on Tyneside, the stocky 5ft 9in defender's chances of international recognition are certain to be strengthened.

"The Champions League is a great bonus for us," Bernard said. "Every game we play we are learning new things, because we have a young squad and we're very much enjoying it.

"I'm aiming to represent my country at left-back or left midfield but I'm young and need to learn a bit more or play more games. I'm thinking about it now because it's time for me to play internationals."

Bernard is, however, far from enamoured with domestic football in his homeland. "It's starting to become boring," he added. "A few weeks ago I went to watch Paris St-Germain versus Marseilles in the cup, but the game was too slow.

"I didn't enjoy it, although there was tough tackling and everything. Technically, the French are much better but I can't watch French league football. Now I need to see English or Spanish football.

Rob Stewart

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