I first witnessed the football talent of Andrew Bernal at St.George Stadium when he captained the Young Socceroos in a friendly back in 1985.
The young man was so technically competent in his role as a libero that I believed he possessed the qualities of a young Australian Beckenbauer.
Unfortunately, Australian football lost Bernal’s contribution for the 1985 World Youth Cup Finals because he decided to ply his trade in his parent’s native Spain which for bureaucratic complications denied him the opportunity to lead his country in that tournament.
As many players who ventured overseas will testify, it’s hard to combat the obstacles which are presented in trying to make the grade in a foreign country but just like Craig Johnston, David Mitchell , Eddie Krncevic and Alan Davidson before him, Bernal overcame these and spent four years in the professional game in Spain.
When you’re riding shotgun, one thing is for sure – you have to take the initiative and Bernal succeeded in this endeavour when he miraculously managed to escape the clutches of the Spanish authorities before he arrived in England in 1988.
His account of the meeting with Brian Clough, the Nottingham Forest Manager, is pulsating and largely explains how Bernal was able to survive the cut-throat world of professional football and carve a career for himself when his playing days had ended.
The book reads like a Who’s Who of British football talent as he was able to mix it with household names on and off the pitch at his time with Ipswich Town and Reading.
Perhaps his biggest playing disappointment was Reading’s failure to win promotion to the Premier League when they were defeated narrowly by Bolton in the 1995 play off at Wembley Stadium.
However, a sterling career for the Royals until 2000 when he often played through the pain barrier was sufficient compensation for all those years he had devoted to a career in professional football.
Life after football can be a rude awakening for some but Andrew Bernal applied all his tenacity and contacts to acquire a position with SFX Management and ultimately be awarded the prize responsibility of looking after the welfare of David Beckham when he signed for Real Madrid.
To mix in the company of Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Raul and Figo was a dream come true and a lifestyle the average fan could only dream as Bernal met some of the biggest celebrities and influential people from all walks of life attached to Real Madrid and the Spanish game.
He became part of an inner sanctum while rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous.
Nevertheless, Beckham’s star status didn’t come without its challenges as the paparazzi would demand every piece of the England captain and there are some harrowing experiences recorded in the book where Bernal was lucky to stay alive.
Life was surreal, and for Bernal it seemed the party would never end until Beckham changed management companies and Bernal’s world came tumbling down
Bernal was no longer riding shot gun and his unfortunate resort to drug reliance took him on a never-ending downward spiral.
This part of the story is something many high-profile people would not divulge but Bernal’s honesty in recognizing his human frailities is one of the features of his story.
Andrew Bernal’s story should be read by all football and sporting fans, and particularly by the football hierarchy in Australia who should finally realise there has to be a pathway created for professional footballers when they retire from the game.