AT the age of 33, Pablo Hernandez could have been forgiven for thinking he had seen everything football has to offer.
His career has taken the Leeds United playmaker from La Liga to the Premier League and the Spanish national team.
Along the way, Hernandez has played in the Champions League and helped Swansea City lift their first major trophy when Bradford City were beaten in the 2013 League Cup final.
Then there was a spell in Qatar, while he recently dipped a toe in the ownership market by joining former Valencia team-mate Angel Dealbert by taking charge of third-tier Spanish club CD Castellon.
Such a wide-range of experiences could firmly put a footballer in the ‘been there, done that, got the t-shirt’ category. Hernandez, however, insists he still has plenty to learn following the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa.
“This is something different and I have to adjust,” he said after buying into the Argentinian’s regime of starting training at 8am in pre-season and still being at Thorp Arch 12 hours later.
“But for me it is a good experience to work with him and it is a challenge for me to continue to improve.
“I am 33 but I think I can improve with him and I can learn every day with him. I try to give all of me on the pitch to play for the club.”
So can Hernandez, United’s Player of the Year in 2017-18, still get better at an age when many footballers are edging towards calling it a day?
“Why not?” said the Spaniard with a smile. “Usually, it is difficult (at this age) but I think for me it is a mistake if I think I can’t learn and I can’t improve.
“I am naturally an ambitious person, I always want more and I think I can give more for Leeds. For me, it is a challenge – can I go to the Premier League with this club?”
Bielsa’s reign got off to a hugely encouraging start on Sunday, as Stoke City were beaten 3-1 in front of a delighted Elland Road.
Considering the quality in the Potters ranks and the fact 10 of the starting XI had been part of United’s struggles last term, the performance laid down a big marker.
Not that someone with Hernandez’s experience is getting carried away.
He added: “All the fans and all the players and all the staff and the club, we want to fight to get to the Premier League.
“But it is only one game. It is good to be positive and it is good to be ambitious but we need to continue with this hard work and I think it is a mistake if we think every game is like this.
“Some games, we can play good and win when we play good. But also if we run like we did against Stoke then we will always have a chance to win when we don’t play well also.”
Hernandez netted United’s second goal against Stoke to cap an energetic display from him.
“It was a good day for us and a good start,” added the much-travelled Spaniard. “Obviously, it is great to get three points and I think the team played a good game.
“I think we were in control of the game and I think it is important now to take confidence for the next game.
“We have worked hard for these six weeks with Marcelo. And I think this game was perfect for us – a really difficult game against Stoke City, who are big team and a good team.
“It is this kind of team that we need to beat if we want to fight to get promoted and fight to go to the Premier League. If that’s what we want then we need to beat teams like Stoke City.”