WHEN Gaetano Berardi led Leeds boxer Josh Warrington out ahead of his title eliminator a couple of months ago, few could doubt the affection in which the defender is held in his adopted city.
Danny McGuire, fresh from winning his eighth Super League title with Leeds Rhinos, joined the Swiss-born full-back along a well worn path that had previously been trodden by Dominic Matteo and Vinnie Jones.
Both United old boys are rightly regarded as legendary figures at Elland Road, with Jones always afforded a huge welcome on his return and Matteo’s name being sung to this day by supporters.
For Berardi to join such exalted company was, he admits, a big honour. It also strengthened further his own bond with a city he first called ‘home’ during the often chaotic opening summer of Massimo Cellino’s reign.
“I feel totally at home in Leeds,” the 28-year-old told The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s clash with Hull City. “This is my fourth season so I know a lot about the city. Everything from the people to the restaurants and the bars. It is always a good place to go out and enjoy Leeds as a city.
“The people are very good to me. The other players find that, too.”
Berardi’s longevity at a club where, until recently, short-termism abounded is testament to what he has brought to not only the Championship but also the famous white shirt.
United fans quickly realised the foreign legion of signings that Cellino brought to England during the summer of 2014 were not up to the job of challenging for promotion. Berardi, however, was different – even if the first sighting Elland Road had of the full -back culminated in a red card for a chest-high tackle that belonged more on the karate court than the football field.
A second dismissal and suspension followed a few weeks later against Huddersfield Town but, since then, he has only endeared himself to the club’s supporters.
Squaring up to the entire Terriers bench in the wake of Garry Monk’s touchline clash with David Wagner last February helped, as did the full-back’s tendency to throw himself into any tackle that, at best, could be described as ‘60-40’ in his opponent’s favour.
This ‘tough guy’ image – reinforced by the headbutt against Bristol City that brought a red card just hours before he led Warrington into the ring at Leeds Arena a couple of months ago – is, however, just for the pitch.
Away from the heat of battle, Berardi is quietly-spoken and articulate. He isn’t one for bombast, nor is he one for shying away from difficult questions. This much was underlined earlier this week when Berardi, naturally right footed, selflessly admitted Leeds needed “a better player than me” at left-back.
Such refreshing honesty will, it seems, be rewarded over the festive season by Berardi joining the ‘100 Club’ at Elland Road.
“It will be good to get to 100 games,” said Berardi, who is three games short of the landmark. “It will mean I am an important player for the club and that makes me happy.
For me, I just want to help this club. This has been the best moment of my career. I have been at Leeds a long time and I will always remember how ever many years I spend here.Leeds United’s Gaetano Berardi
“I don’t know what will happen in January. Obviously, they may bring someone in at left-back. I don’t care if that happens, it is not about me. The team is what matters.
“I can only try to do my best every day. When the manager wants me to play, I am ready.”
Pressed on what extra challenges playing out of position can bring, Berardi added: “It is not difficult, just different. Now, I have played more games on the left than the right. So, for me, it is normal. I can just do my best.
“It is all about mentality and confidence.
“If you do that correct, you will be good.”
United will reach the halfway stage of the season this afternoon with the visit of Hull and victory could bring a return to the top six.
“The Championship is a little bit different to last season,” added Berardi, who has played under eight managers in three-and-a-half years at Elland Road.
“But we are in a good position and feeling confident that we will finish better than last season.
“What happened to us (last term) can only help us. We have many players still here who remember how we finished last season.
“We learned from that and know this can be better.
“For me, I just want to help this club. This has been the best moment of my career. I have been at Leeds a long time and I will always remember how ever many years I spend here.
“I don’t know if that will be four, five, six or even more years. But they have all been good.”
As for his role in Warrington’s big night last October as victory over Dennis Ceylan at the Leeds Arena landed the Leeds boxer a shot at the IBF world featherweight title, Berardi loved every second. He is now eyeing another ring-walk at a much more familiar venue.
“The boxing was a nice night,” said Berardi about leading out a fighter who is understood to be close to agreeing a deal to fight Lee Selby in Leeds next May.
“The atmosphere was unbelievable. I was very happy to be there and so proud. I had met Josh last year and we spoke about the possibility of me being involved then.
“He wanted to know if I would be happy to do that. Of course, I was. I told him it would be a big honour.
“The noise was huge. But he has told me that he is trying to organise a fight at Elland Road. I would definitely be there. I do not know if he would want me (to lead Warrington out) but I would be there. It will be a big night for Leeds.”