According to his birth certificate, Pablo Hernandez should be on the wane, but it says everything that Leeds United fans will be delighted to see him back in the starting XI for the first time since September at Kenilworth Road today.
The Whites bucked the modern trend this week when they gave the former Spain international a new contract which will take him through to the end of the 2021-22 season, by which time he will be 37.
Nowadays, once players pass 30, clubs often take it year to year, unsure when the end will come. Leeds, though, have history when it comes to getting the best out of old stagers.
Their last team to win promotion to the top-flight was captained by a 33-year-old Gordon Strachan. The Scot led them to the First Division title two years later and did not retire until he was a 40-year-old Premier League manager. His inspiration rubbed off on midfield team-mate Gary McAllister, who called it quits shortly before his 39th birthday. Gary Speed was 41.
Hernandez seems to have found the right place at the right time in Elland Road, joining from Qatari club Al-Arabi in the summer of 2016.
His football intelligence makes him an ideal and willing pupil for coach Marcelo Bielsa. The Argentinian likes multi-functional footballers, and Hernandez can play wide or as a No 10. Leeds’ thoughtful style suits Hernandez, drawing on his experience, and their supporters idolise him.
I know that in football time goes fast. When you reach this age you always need to try and be calm.Pablo Hernandez
“I’m maybe not a better player,” Hernandez reflected ahead of the Championship game at Luton Town. “I’m the same player, but maybe my game has changed.
“My game has evolved. At the beginning of my career I was a winger or a wing-back. With the passage of years I started playing more in the middle.
“When you learn new things in football you can play in different positions.”
Hernandez had to wait a while for his latest contract, but it takes a lot to fluster him.
“We started talking with the club in the summer and finally now we have the contract and I am very happy,” he says.
“I know that in football time goes fast. When you reach this age you always need to try and be calm.
“A new two-year contract is good for my confidence.
“I know that playing for this club you need to give 100 per cent every game and every day.
“I am in good condition to do this.”
Ahead of his time, it took a radical rethink to push Strachan through his twilight years, fuelled by seaweed tablets and bananas. Others have turned to yoga, science or even cryotherapy in a desperate attempt to hold back the sands of time. For Hernandez there has been no drastic lifestyle change.
“You need to be more careful about the food you eat and the recovery time,” he reasons. “It’s not the same for the young lads.
“I try to do the best for my body, the best things to recover for the next games.
“I have evolved in this aspect too.
“Fifteen years ago when I started to play (professional) football clubs maybe didn’t have nutritionalists and people who just work in this area, looking at your food and your recovery. Now I think all the clubs pay a lot of attention to this.”
The big question is whether Hernandez can step back into the Premier League, which he last graced with Swansea City from 2012 to 2014.
Leeds are not investing in new contracts for their best players to stay where they are.
“If Pablo had to play in the Premier League tomorrow, I think he could do it without any problems,” insists Bielsa.
Hernandez thinks so too.
“It is a tough league (but) I’ve played in this league before, and in the Spanish league,” he points out.
“We have lots of players in the squad who could (make the step up). I feel very good now. I feel young, and I know I am ready to play.”
That is all for the future. The here and now is about promotion.
“This club deserves to play in the Premier League,” argues Hernandez.
“The last few weeks have been difficult for me because I have been injured. Now I am ready to play from the start or from the bench.
“The most important thing is that the team continues winning games and I try to help the team.”
They can expect to have his help for a long time yet.