After countless memories, blood, tears, and a dramatic promotion, Pablo Hernandez and Gaetano Berardi are leaving Leeds United. With one final game on Sunday, the iconic duo will say their emotional goodbye in front of a portion of the Elland Road faithful.
There are many heroes from Leeds’ promotion season. Some have gone from strength to strength. And some have just been unlucky with injuries and, to put it bluntly, age catching up with them. The best days of Hernandez and Berardi may be behind them, but, whilst their abilities may be fading, the love for them from the terraces of Elland Road is certainly not.
Pablo Hernandez and Gaetano Berardi Leave Plenty of Memories Behind at Leeds
Gaetano Berardi: The Warrior
When Gaetano Berardi signed for Leeds in 2014, he had something of a reputation as being a tough defender. A hard man. The kind of player Leeds fans loved, and other teams’ fans loved to hate.
His debut was in the League Cup against Accrington Stanley. The first half brought an assist, a good start. The second half? A flying scissor kick and a debut straight red card. Two red cards in his first four games for the club ably demonstrate Berardi’s combative approach. But it’s this approach that really endeared him to the faithful.
Swiss-born, but Berardi moved to Italy as a youngster to join Brescia’s youth set up. A few seasons there and with Sampdoria led to a full Switzerland cap. The then Leeds owner, Massimo Cellino, took an interest and brought him to Elland Road in 2014 and the rest is history.
Left bloodied and bruised by frustrated attackers, Berardi was always a thorn in their side. Certainly more red cards than goals, but no one could ever argue that he didn’t care. Rumours of a revolt against the then manager Neil Redfern, by some of Cellino’s Italian league signings, led to the “sick note six” tag. Berardi had arrived at the same time as these players and was genuinely injured too. And yet reported for duty despite this, side before self indeed.
Leaving Leeds United: An Open Letter
Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United is a different beast entirely, and the club seems very different too. Injuries have ravaged Berardi’s appearances over the past few seasons, but he has remained a key figure. Bielsa speaks highly of him: “Berardi is a player who is a noble competitor. He’s a player whose football conditions I value a lot, a current player who still has years of football in front of him”.
The Leeds Fanzine, The Square Ball, was asked by Berardi to release an open letter to the fans. He talks about being part of the Leeds family, of realising the dream of becoming a champion, and the precious memories of his son’s birth in the city.
Perhaps most touchingly, it is his words about the club, how they cared for him, that carry the most weight. Speaking of the medical team in particular he said that they told him: “Bera, you can come back here for treatment after the surgery, even without a contract, we’ll get you back fit again. You are one of us.”
In the penultimate game of the promotion campaign, disaster had struck. With the title already secured, Berardi suffered an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his knee, which would rule him out for an extended period of time. But such is the love for Bera, such has been his dedication to the cause, Leeds United gave him a new one-year deal in order to treat his injury properly. A real touch of class. Just like the man himself.
Pablo Hernandez: The Magician
If you need evidence of the impact Pablo Hernandez has had in Leeds, take a walk around the city. Look carefully and you will find him. Roaring, shirt in hand, spread over the brickwork of the Duck & Drake. Immortalised as many have been recently, on the walls of Leeds, looking down upon the masses like the hero he is.
The image is from Swansea, a day the fans of Leeds United will never forget. The day that Pablo Hernandez scuffed the ball into the bottom corner of the goal to send a city into delirium and all but secure promotion. 16 years of pain. Gone.
A Complete Player
Hernandez was always committed to the cause ever since arriving in 2016. But, whereas before he was often alone, struggling to fit the pieces together. With Marcelo Bielsa, things were very different. He had support, there was a vision, a drive to match his own.
A short time into his tenure, Bielsa praised Hernandez due to his ability to influence the entire pitch. His key goals kept the momentum going throughout the entire season. Towards the end of the season, his fitness was a concern and his appearances were often off the bench rather than starting. But this didn’t limit his impact, it merely preserved it. And those key goals, those magical touches, THAT goal at Swansea, were proof that the decision was correct. Proof indeed how special Pablo Hernandez is to Leeds United.
Back in the Premier League
There were tears when the playoffs ended in disaster against Derby. And there were tears as Leeds’s promotion was confirmed as West Bromwich Albion fell away. Hernandez cares. And he’s put in the hard yards and scored the hard goals to demonstrate it: “To get promoted with this club would be the best trophy for me in my career. For me, to play in the Premier League with Leeds United is a dream.”
This same desire is probably why this season has been so difficult for Hernandez. Such a key figure in the promotion side, there were signs that his body was starting to struggle with the demands of the game. Key signings in his position and injuries limited his Premier League involvement and this led to frustration. Frustration that boiled over into a water bottle assault as he was replaced against Leicester City earlier in the season. Bielsa doesn’t stand for this, and Hernandez was missing for several weeks afterward.
It hasn’t been a fairy-tale return to the Premier League, and it was no real surprise to hear of his impending departure. Indeed, Castellon tried to sign Hernandez in January but this was rejected at the time. But as part-owner, this move would make sense now, especially considering his family has already moved back to Spain.
Not a Fairy-Tale Ending, but a Fitting Send-Off for Hernandez and Gaetano Berardi
Both players amassed over 150 appearances for Leeds United. One, arguably the most talented to have worn the shirt in the last 16 years before promotion. The other, Leeds’s longest-serving player and a hard-hitting legend of a very different style.
Both Hernandez and Berardi will be missed, both are adored, but both are ready to depart on good terms and with fond memories to boot. Hernandez and Gaetano Berardi are leaving Leeds United, but they will never be forgotten.
Let’s hope for a fitting send-off in front of the Elland Road faithful on Sunday, they deserve nothing less.
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