From Old Trafford, to Salford, via Kazakhstan: Di’Shon Bernard’s getting about

Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer

Di’Shon Bernard is enjoying a successful loan stint with Salford as the promising centre-back continues to build on an unforgettable Manchester United debut in freezing, faraway Kazakhstan.

A talented defender with the ability to bring the ball out from the back, the 20-year-old jumped at the chance to get regular first-team football when the ambitious League Two side came calling in October.

Bernard won PFA Player of the Month for December and subsequently signed a loan extension with Salford until the end of a coronavirus-shaped season which has recently been disrupted by a cold snap.

Saturday’s trip to Bradford became their latest postponement as temperatures dropped as low as -6 degrees Celsius – small fry for a player whose United debut against Astana took place at around -25 degrees.

“It was crazy,” Bernard told the PA news agency. “I didn’t realise how cold it was going to be! No one gave me a heads-up.

“Just travelling with the first team is a crazy experience with private jets. As soon as you get off the plane you see fans already queueing up, shouting names and stuff.

“The hotel as well, ridiculous. Ridiculous! And then the game, the fans – you see so many people screaming, shouting.

“There were times in the game that I’m shouting to my other centre-back and he can’t even hear me because the fans are so loud. But definitely a great experience.”

The stadium roof in Nur-Sultan made the Europa League clash playable in November 2019, when Bernard made his senior bow as part of an inexperienced United side.

“Kazakhstan was a great experience for me and it was good to make my debut with all my friends that I’ve grown up with because a lot of us made our debut that night,” he said.

“I think obviously the game didn’t go, as in the scoreline, as we wanted it to go but there was a lot to take from it.”

On the own goal, he explained: “It was an unlucky rebound but definitely an experience I’ll keep with me forever.”

Bernard inadvertently sealed Astana’s 2-1 comeback win but United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stressed publicly and privately how well the defender played, saying he “didn’t even put a foot wrong” when deflecting a cross past Lee Grant.

“Literally straight after the game he puts his arm around me and said I was excellent and ‘don’t look too much into the own goal, it happens’,” Bernard said.

“It’s not like I meant to do it. It was an unlucky rebound, so he definitely still showed his belief in me.”

Bernard has yet to add to his solitary United appearance and knew joining Salford on loan this season would be key to his development.

“I think obviously you get to a certain age and a loan is definitely the right thing,” said Bernard, who has noticed improvements in his aerial ability as well as on the ball.

Di’Shon Bernard has been impressing on loan at Salford
Di’Shon Bernard has been impressing on loan at Salford (Mike Egerton/PA)

“Obviously not many players want to do it but it’s definitely vital for your progression in your career because going on loan (is) gaining experience and you realise what men’s football is about.”

Bernard has come a long way from playing kids’ football with Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe, before spending six years with Chelsea’s youth team alongside the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tariq Lamptey.

The defender joined United in 2017 and is looking to take a leaf out the book of academy graduate Axel Tuanzebe, who has established himself in the United first-team after loan spells away.

“Axel is definitely someone that it was good to talk to because obviously growing up as a lad everyone wants to go from 23s straight into the first team,” he said of his defensive partner in Astana.

“But you have to realise not everyone’s like that. Not everyone’s going to be like, for example, Mason Greenwood – who just goes into the first team and absolutely smashes it.

“Sometimes you have to go out on loan and learn your trade and stuff, and then come back and see what happens.”

United helped Bernard decide to join Salford over other clubs and continue to keep close tabs on him, speaking to him frequently as he focuses on improving rather than his long-term future.

“I just want to keep playing, keep getting experience,” the 20-year-old added.

“Hopefully as a team we can get promoted into League One. That’s our biggest aim for this season. But individually, I just want to keep developing as a player.”

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