Leeds United duo ‘deserve’ their Elland Road farewell

Leeds United’s supporters will say fond farewells to Pablo Hernandez and Gaetano Berardi tomorrow as the club moves forward without two of its great servants but coach Marcelo Bielsa believes the standards the pair set will outlast them.

Hernandez and Berardi joined Leeds in the wilderness years before Bielsa arrived in 2018 to elevate the Whites back into the Premier League. They have finished their first season back in the top flight in the top half, and could be as high as eighth if a victory at home to West Bromwich Albion tomorrow combines with favourable results elsewhere.

Hernandez won five player of the year awards in three incredible seasons, taking the player’s prize in 2018 and 2019 and the main award for a third consecutive time the following year.

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If it was his incredible technical ability and footballing intelligence which marked the Spanish international nicknamed “El Mago” (the Magician) out from the moment he joined on loan from Al-Arabi in 2016, in the case of cult hero Berardi, it was as much about his commitment.

Leeds United's Pablo Hernandez is leaving Elland Road this summer. Picture: Simon Hulme

Signed from Sampdoria as a full-back in 2014 but converted to centre-back by Bielsa, the club’s longest-serving player saw his contract expire shortly after the 2019-20 season restarted following the Covid-19 lockdown, but agreed a short-term extension to see the campaign out.

When he suffered a serious knee injury in the penultimate game, Leeds gave him a one-year contract even though they were unlikely to get much football in return. His only appearance this season was as a substitute at Southampton on Tuesday.

Now, though, is the time to move on. Hernandez and Berardi’s contracts have come to an end and Leeds this week added Peter Lowy, Massimo Marineli and former Fiorentina chief executive Sandro Menucci to their board.

The contributions Hernandez and Berardi made off the field will help the club to continue to progress, according to Bielsa, who remains coy about a new contract but has been in the same position at the end of his previous two summers and come back.

Leeds United's Gaetano Berardi (left), Luke Ayling and Ezgjan Alioski (right) celebrate winning the Championship.

“It is exaggerated to say Leeds is a great family but it has a structure of that nature and the players have constructed this way of living due to the very marked leadership of some and the desire of the younger ones to follow the lines of behaviour,” he said.

“We have to be grateful to Pablo and Berardi because they have been part of forming that line of behaviour. There’s some players who stay and some players that leave but they are all on the same path and Pablo and Berardi with their behaviour have left their mark, not just on the pitch.

“I would have been satisfied had they continued in the squad.”

Bielsa was delighted their farewell coincides with fans being back inside Elland Road for the first time since before last season’s title run-in, and apologetic to Hernandez for not using him more in the Premier League.

Leeds United coach Marcelo Bielsa. Picture: Gareth Copley/PA Wire.

“They have been a reference point for Leeds, for the team, for the squad, for the fans, two excellent professionals, great team-mates,” he said.

“I have had great respect for how they go about their profession and football-wise they have a lot of ability too. For the club, we have great sadness they will no longer be part of the institution

“They totally deserve to play in front of the fans in the last game of the season. It wouldn’t have been fair if they weren’t able to.”

Hernandez’s two Premier League starts for Leeds – he also played in it for Swansea City – were at Liverpool on the season’s opening day and November’s defeat at home to Leicester City.

“There has been a lowering of the amount of minutes that they play, but I continue to consider them important,” said Bielsa.

“Berardi still has years of football in front of him.

“Pablo was our right winger and he became an offensive midfielder. His capabilities are not linked to his physical level – that he does have – but his intelligence and his experience.

“This last season, I can’t ignore that Pablo didn’t have the minutes he would have wanted or deserved and I can’t ignore that I am responsible.”

As has become his annual tradition, Bielsa remained non-committal about renewing his contract until the season is over, but what he did say was reassuring.

“I am not considering any alternative options – I don’t have any alternative options,” he reiterated. “I don’t want to run the risk of people thinking Leeds are coming towards me more than I am going towards Leeds.

“It is a place of work where any manager would like to be, even the best managers in the world.”

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