Alexandro Bernabei: A Long Way Away From Home

Whether it be signing players from Japan, South Korea, the United States or Argentina, it is fair to Celtic have broadened their horizons in the transfer market in recent years. The likes of Kyogo Furuhashi and Reo Hatate have been instant hits in Glasgow’s east end after making moves from the far east. Others, though, haven’t hit the ground running as fast as these players have, one of those being Alexandro Bernabei. 

Signed from Lanus in the Argentinian top flight last summer, it took young Bernabei a while to get used to life in Scotland and settle into his new club. This was down to a range of factors such as the extreme culture change he had to experience and his family life taking a twist. He has provoked some drama away from the football pitch which is never beneficial but as a person, Bernabei has matured overall at Celtic. This in-depth piece will examine the 22-year-old’s time in Glasgow so far by looking at his off the pitch life and how this has affected his development as a man as well as his performances on the park. 

For a mere €4.3m, Celtic were able to secure the services of a little known yet fiery Argentinian full back from Lanus last summer. Prior to joining the Hoops, Bernabei had made 85 appearances for the Argentinian top flight side. A small, vivacious left back who loves to get up and down the wing, he appeared to be an ideal player for previous Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou’s play style. As well as this, his sheer passion for the game and rather fervent side of his personality made him a lovable character among the Hoops’ faithful before he had even joined the club. When he did eventually make the move, though, things didn’t work out for a while.

Alexandro Bernabei
Artwork by Charbak Dipta

Initially, the Argentine found minutes hard to come by. Greg Taylor was churning out some hugely respectable performances at left back week in, week out for Celtic at the beginning of the season thus the notion of dropping him and playing Bernabei was rarely thought of. He didn’t make his competitive Celtic debut until the end of August but before that, he already had himself in trouble off the pitch. In their third league game of the season, Celtic defeated Kilmarnock by five goals to nil. Bernabei may not have played in the match but still managed to make the back pages the following day. Out in Glasgow after the game, Bernabei attempted to get into a popular, up market bar in the city centre. He was refused entry, though, and was later arrested and charged with a road traffic offence. He was released after it and got told he had to appear in court at a later date. This date eventually did come around where more was found out about the 22 year old’s offence. 

In court, Bernabei faced two separate charges. One was for drink driving and the other for behaving in a threatening or abusive manner. Despite the charges, the player pleaded not guilty. The trial was set for March of 2023 but then got postponed until May. However when May rolled around, an essential witness was off sick. This delayed the trial even further and it is now due to take place in August. It will be frustrating for Bernabei that he will not know his fate for another while but one thing is for sure, he must’ve acted in an immature manner to even have such accusations flung at him. Nevertheless, we can put slight explanation to his actions.

Not just in football but in life in general, the majority of the population have a fiasco when they are young and immature that they will want to forget and put behind them as they grow older. Getting arrested and charged with antisocial behaviour and drink driving appears to be Bernabei’s. Moreover at the time, he hadn’t even been living in Glasgow two months. Moving to the other side of the world where there is a completely different way of life and culture from back home at 21 years old whilst also having to worry about performing on the pitch would be hard for anyone never mind Bernabei. Take Angel Di Maria, for example. A fellow Argentinian, he joined Manchester United from Real Madrid in 2014 but struggled with the language barrier and weather in the UK. On and off the pitch, he had a horrid time and left a year later, joining PSG where he turned out to be a great success. Moving 7,009 miles from home tells us how the left back’s initial performances at Celtic may not have been the greatest. Across the globe, young men leave their hometowns and families to move across the world and ply their trade but when they initially get to their destination, they are usually not the best. As well as the aforementioned Di Maria, Phillipe Coutinho struggled when he initially moved to Europe with Inter and Michael Owen didn’t do too well at Real Madrid. Unlike these players, however, Bernabei has improved over time and it can be said the left back gained vast amounts of maturity through the birth of his son. For any man, becoming a Father is a monumental landmark in life and it was no different for Bernabei. And since he has been a Dad, his performances have improved and he has matured loads.

It did take Bernabei until the back end of August to make his Celtic debut, though. It came in a record 9-0 victory over Dundee United at Tannadice with the defender coming off the bench to play 12 minutes. Days later, he then his maiden start in the league cup against Ross County, helping his side to a 4-1 triumph. It then took the 22 year old over a month to play after this although against St. Johnstone, he was arguably man of the match. Getting up and down the left with ease, Bernabei caught the eye and set up Giorgos Giakoumakis’ late, match-winning goal. Celtic fans were hugely encouraged by the youngster as was his boss. Postecoglou spoke about the defender’s potential, saying: “We see a really bright future for him and we wanted to integrate him slowly. Alexandro has been really good in training. He wants to learn and he has a real appetite for improvement”. Although he showed flashes of his talent in the first quarter of the season, Bernabei’s performances started to dip after this.

A sub-par display against Hearts at Tynecastle was followed up by a few appearances where Bernabei’s minutes were inconsistent. He never seemed to find a rhythm from then on in but did manage to score his maiden Celtic goal in early April. Away at Ross County, Celtic led 1-0 going into the closing stages. Bernabei came on and deep into stoppage time, rattled into the top corner from outside the box. Such a goal sparked memorable scenes in the away end as well as a rather intriguing chant which we will discuss later. In terms of minutes and appearances, the inconsistency of Bernabei’s can be somewhat be put down to ex-Hoops gaffer Postecoglou’s reluctance to immediately throw the left back in. He said: “I wanted to give him time because it is a big change for him, even with the language. If you throw him into a competitive environment it can be a sink or swim scenario. They may thrive immediately, but I didn’t see the need to do that.” We can see that although the Argentine was poor on the park and this could be partly down to why he didn’t play, another reason was that his manager was conservative yet wise at the same time. An experienced manager, Postecoglou knew there was no need to throw Bernabei in at the deep end and didn’t. He was started on a few occasions and made a number of substitute appearances which catalysed a chant that resulted in a row from the external world outside of football. 

Usually when Bernabei is brought on from the bench or after he does something productive in a match such as his aforementioned goal, the Celtic fans aggressively chant ‘AR-GEN-TINA, AR-GEN-TINA, AR-GEN-TINA’. Although many would think this stems from the fact Bernabei is from, you guessed it, Argentina, there is a deeper layer to the chant. The majority of Celtic supporters are firmly against the actions of the British Empire. This is because the club was founded by a Catholic Irish Marist Priest and have a wide fan base in Ireland who are of the ‘Republican’ mindset. Due to this, most of the club’s fans were in support of Argentina during the Falklands conflict and against the actions of Britain hence the ‘AR-GEN-TINA’ chants which double up to support Bernabei. As much as they did back the left back, the repetitive chant also sparked somewhat of a diplomatic debate on Twitter. 

Guillermo Carmona, who is the Secretary of Falklands Affairs in the Argentine Foreign Ministry, heavily praised the Hoops support for their chant. Indeed on Twitter he said that it filled him with great emotion to hear Celtic fans chanting what they did. Carmona then ended the Tweet with the popular hashtag

‘LosMalvinasSonArgentinas’ which translates simply to ‘The Falklands Are Argentine’. Although many supported this mindset, Mark Kent, the UK’s ambassador to Argentina last year, didn’t. He claimed that politics should not be mixed with football and that Carmona is a ‘poor populist politician without shame’. These comments were rather harsh. There is no need to personally insult Carmona for simply stating his opinion. The Argentine then replied to this harsh Tweet, saying that when Kent’s country (Britain) respects international law and ends the ‘shame of colonialism’, he may consider his sporting advice. 

This spiteful debate between two Government officials is frank evidence that football can affect and influence many across the globe in several ways. Bernabei’s next Celtic goal may not have the same impact as his first but the Argentine will be hoping it comes sooner rather than later. He did not contribute as much as he would’ve liked to in his first year in Glasgow but under new Hoops gaffer Brendan Rodgers, Bernabei certainly could. 

Previous Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou asked his full backs to invert and practically become an extra midfielder. This did not suit Bernabei’s attributes although what Rodgers asks of his wide defenders could. The 50-year-old likes his left and right backs to get up high and wide on the flanks and overlap whilst the wingers cut inside. This will suit Bernabei down to a tee and following a year of maturing and settling into his new club, life and surroundings, it may well be his time to come to the fore and show Celtic fans and the whole of Scottish football what he can do.

Josh McCafferty

Josh is a 17-year-old passionate football writer and avid Celtic supporter.