Antoine Bernede is a model modern footballer. he is quiet, reflective, clever and professional. in our interview we were able to discover another side of him. he has the benefit of good genes, loves japanese cuisine and also has other reasons to want to visit tokyo!
If our club ever had to take to the seas, you imagine we'd be in good hands, with our multi-talented crew, sturdy hull and - equally important - a stable anchor able to defy any and all conditions. Playing the part of the anchor would of course be Antoine Bernede with his trademark stoic calm and fine left foot. He is a player happy to take on responsibility and grow to meet it. You would never imagine, if you hadn't been told, that this man is just 20 years old. Antoine tells us above the rooftops of Salzburg how it all began and how he was able to develop this maturity:
My mother came from Cameroon, and we lived there for a while. We had a big house and a football pitch right by our door. I started to play football there. When I came to France, I started at FC Solitaires in the 19th Arrondissement of Paris. From this point on it was all totally about football! Nothing gave me more pleasure than running after the ball. I came back home from school and went to play. It was the only sport I really wanted to do.
It wasn't all down to Antoine. On the one hand he is part of the small French-Cameroonian community with 50,000 people, which has produced an incredible amount of top footballers in Jerome Onguene, Samuel Umtiti and Kylian Mbappe. On the other hand, his father remains a person who drives him on. He even joined his son for the interview. He hadn't the talent himself to make it as a professional, but he passed a gift for football down:
My father really helped me a lot. He always loved football and came to a lot of matches with me. He trained me, even if I wasn't enjoying it. That made it possible for me to reach a good level quite quickly. If you've already put in the hard yards, everything comes much more easily.
Antoine therefore almost inevitably became an important player for ninth-tier FC Solitaires. He then switched from his local club in the poorest arrondissement of the French capital to Paris Saint-Germain. That would kick start his career:
I was just playing football and wasn't thinking about it, but the PSG scouts got in contact with my coach. I took part in a few trial matches, and they liked my way of playing. Suddenly I was there, without really knowing everything that went on behind the scenes. Looking back I think that it came at the right moment. I have to mention the good luck to get offered this opportunity. As a Parisian it was always my dream of course to sign for PSG. After that I could learn a lot from the established pros there.
Despite making such rapid progression in his career, Antoine soon had to face some tough challenges. After staking his claim for a position in the PSG team with an appearance in the French super cup, he had to compete with Marco Verratti, Adrien Rabiot and Lass Diarra for playing time. Instead of being content with short appearances here and there, he dared to make the move to Austria:
I had the option to extend my contract. The feeling grew in me though that I had reached a glass ceiling in Paris. I wouldn't want to take away that time though, as I really learned a lot. At the age of 19 it was time though to properly establish myself in professional football. For young players there are better places for that than Paris [where he made three Ligue 1 appearances for PSG]. Salzburg is one of those. And until today I have not regretted, for a single moment, having come here.
Getting playing time for the Red Bulls is also important for the ambitions Antoine has with Les Bleus. He has appeared for French youth national teams since the age of 15. Last summer the French under-21 team (without Bernede) made the semi-final of the European championship. That ensured qualification for the Olympic Games in Tokyo:
I know that my performances need to be right for the coach [Sylvain Ripoll] to consider me for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. It would be a dream to do that, as it is something special. When else can you live in a village together with decathletes and divers?
Antoine is hoping to take on a leading role in Salzburg by then. He already enjoys the faith of our coach Jesse Marsch to orchestrate the play from the middle a bit like a quarterback. You can tell he likes to have oversight as he stands on the Mönchsberg mountain, which has become a favourite place for him to visit in his free time:
I feel really good. The coach is demanding and pushes us a lot in training. For our part we make the team selection really tough for him. It is a system that is working very well at the moment. I have played three or four matches in a row, which is good for the legs and also for me, as I enjoy it.
That's the case for the whole collective. Antoine is a role model for our multi-cultural team - with a father from France, mother from Cameroon and living in Austria. It's a mix that doesn't just define him but brings our boys from all corners of the planet together:
We are a family. Even though, or perhaps because that everyone comes from somewhere else. It is interesting as every culture has their own idea of football. It makes for a good mix and a nice atmosphere.
Not that this would be worth anything if we aren't celebrating at the end of the season. Antoine may be just 20, but he has some clear aims:
My dream in football is to win as many trophies as possible, especially in the Champions League. The World Cup? Why not! I always play to win titles - anything else has no sense for me. That's what my idols do. Rafael Nadal, Stephen Curry, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric - all true winners.