WHEN witnessing the self-indulgent pitch-side reaction of Pontus Jansson when Leeds United’s season was obliterated on a balmy Spring night in May, it was impossible not to truly feel for one of his esteemed team-mates who was well away from public view.
Pablo Hernandez, a humble, unassuming man from Spain’s third largest city who clearly prefers deeds to words, had emptied the tank in his quest to help haul one of football’s famous institutions back into the big time and was faced with the painful realisation that his mission – which seemed almost a personal one at times – had come up short.
No one could have given any more, with the fact that the mental and physical demands of a long and epic season had caught up with him in Leeds’s harsh play-off denouement only adding to the sense of empathy towards him.
In typically classy fashion, Hernandez did his grieving from a professional perspective in private.
A graceful figure in his work on the pitch, Hernandez showed quiet leadership from the early days of Bielsa Ball to the dark nights of winter and the business time of the season when the daffodils come out.
It saw him named by his peers in the PFA Championship team of the season and reach double figures for the campaign.
Hernandez’s drive, elan and nous – just the second Leeds player to win back-to-back player of the year awards in 2017-18 and 2018-19, no less – suggesting that, just like a fine Spanish rioja, he has improved with age.Leon Wobschall
Twelve goals from midfield and some rarefied moments to stir the soul.
Yet despite his heroic campaign, it was inescapable not to contemplate that given that he had turned 34 just a month earlier, his Premier League ship may just have sailed.
As all leaders do, Hernandez dusted himself down over the summer and embarked on having another go and channelling that hurt.
Should Leeds achieve their cherished aims in 2019-20, then the Spaniard’s story will be a special one.
Not that he would be shouting it from the rooftops. That is plainly not his style.
News of Hernandez’s contract extension – which will commit him to the Elland Road club until past his 37th birthday – was greeted with justifiable fanfare from Leeds supporters late on Tuesday afternoon.
It was another well-timed announcement from within the corridors of power there.
It was not borne out of romanticism either, with Hernandez’s drive, elan and nous – just the second Leeds player to win back-to-back player of the year awards in 2017-18 and 2018-19, no less – suggesting that, just like a fine Spanish rioja, he has improved with age.
Should Leeds make it back to the Promised Land, then his playing time may well be tailored and his workload managed.
But his contribution on the pitch and amid the daily environment at Thorp Arch will assume major importance over the next few seasons, come what may.
He is – and will continue to be – a vital asset.
Much as another feted player with Leeds United associations in James Milner is proving in the winter of his own professional career at Liverpool, you cannot get enough of people like him and Hernandez around the building.
They drive standards relentlessly and can provide wise counsel to team-mates in the process.
Marcelo Bielsa clearly thinks so too and you suspect that the Argentine is not overly driven by sentiment in making decisions.
It is fair to say that Hernandez probably would not have it any other way either.