Emotional farewells necessary if Leeds United are to continue evolving - Stuart Rayner

It was a sad day for Leeds United fans, but a necessary one.

For 8,000 fans allowed back into Elland Road for the first time in 14 months to be able to say their goodbyes to Gaetano Berardi and Pablo Hernandez was bitter-sweet.

The pair had been Leeds players since before the days many fans had heard of Marcelo Bielsa or certainly knew much about him.

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That both were so visibly upset to be leaving, so moved by their receptions, highlighted why they were worth keeping in 2020-21.

GOODBYE: An emotional Gaetano Berardi is consoled by Ezgjan Alioski at Elland Road on Sunday afternoon. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“I always thought that there are loads of great players, but great professionals who imprint their stamp upon a club are those who apart from playing well are good people,” explained Bielsa. “We’re going to take Berardi and Pablo as examples.”

The values of good role models are not to be underestimated at football clubs but the really good ones do not have to stay forever because they imprint their values – Leeds’s values – on younger, receptive players around them.

One day, unfortunately, it will be Bielsa pacing away.

Nearly a quarter of a century after Billy Bremner died, three little words of his still resonate around Elland Road: “Side before self”. Like many others, he has never left.

FOND FAREWELL: Leeds United's Pablo Hernandez tries to shake off West Brom's Conor Gallagher at Elland Road on Sunday. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

And Berardi and Hernandez will not be the only ones.

Later that day Stuart Dallas threw Ezgjan Alioski’s name into the conversation talking about “these people have given so much to the club and they’ve done so much,” adding: “We’ve achieved so much together and we’re losing them as team-mates.”

Alioski is in contract negotiations but unlike Bielsa, the fact the season is over with nothing resolved does not bode well. The only shock about Dallas’s words was the openness.

There is a part of the footballing romantic that wishes things would go on forever – that the great players never leave, that the stadium remains untouched.

PLANNING AHEAD: Marcelo Bielsa shouts instructions to his players at Elland Road on Sunday. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

But then comes the moment where you see the player you hero-worshipped puffing around past his prime and a little part of you wishes you had not. Timing departures well is a skill.

Football clubs cannot stand still. It is when they try to, wallowing in the past without thinking enough about the future, that they go backwards.

Leeds had new directors at Sunday’s game, a further reminder of the influx of fresh investment and thinking, much of it from San Francisco.

Despite Bielsa’s “will-he-won’t-he” game over his new contract, despite the fact that two days before the season finished he was still resolutely refusing to pass judgement on it because it was too early, chief executive Angus Kinnear revealed in his always-entertaining programme notes: “Marcelo and the board have been planning for next season since the turn of the year”.

WELCOME BACK: Leeds United finally set foot inside Elland Road again on Sunday. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

The only good thing about Hernandez and Berardi leaving was they had already been superseded on the field. No one could claim Rodrigo, or Diego Llorente and Robin Koch, were not improvements. Alioski’s departure will force Leeds to at least give serious thought to having an actual left-back again.

Names like Rodrigo de Paul (another involved in an emotional “farewell” substitution at the weekend), Emiliano Buendia and Nicolas Tagliafico will crop up now and again and no doubt even if some or all of them sign, sporting director Victor Orta will magic a name out of left-field.

As it has throughout Orta and Bielsa’s partnership, this squad and this team will evolve, rather than go through a revolution.

Next season Patrick Bamford will again have to hold off Rodrigo, Liam Cooper may find Pascal Struijk hard to keep at arm’s length. They may have other rivals too. Somebody will lose their place unexpectedly, as Robin Koch and Mateusz Klich did at points recently.

Ripping things up and starting again would make no sense but, much as it might pain us at times, nor does standing still.

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