Leeds United have confirmed that both Pablo Hernandez and Gaetano Berardi are to leave the club at the end of the season.
Berardi’s contract expires at the end of the season, whereas Hernandez has one more year on his deal but has been expected for a while to return to Spain this summer, and retire at home town club CD Castellon.
In a statement made on the website and posted onto Leeds’ official Twitter account, the club stated: “Leeds United can confirm two more of our promotion heroes, Gaetano Berardi and Pablo Hernandez, will sadly leave the club at the end of the season.
“Both players have had a huge impact at Elland Road and will go down in history, for being part of the group which got Leeds United back to the Premier League after a 16-year absence.
“The club cannot put into words the gratitude and thanks we share for both players.”
#LUFC can confirm two more of our promotion heroes, Gaetano Berardi and Pablo Hernandez, will sadly leave at the end of the season— Leeds United (@LUFC) May 21, 2021
Official confirmation makes it no easier to say farewell to the pair, who arrived during some of Leeds’ darkest days in the Championship and played a pivotal role in turning the club around both on and off the pitch, culminating in promotion to the Premier League last season.
Berardi joined Leeds from Sampdoria in the summer of 2014 as part of a wider contingency of Italian based players including Giuseppe Bellusci, Marco Antenucci and Tomasso Bianchi, although the Switzerland international separated himself from the so called “sicknote-six” who reportedly feigned injury or illness in order to miss Leeds defeat against Charlton.
In the four seasons that followed, and the countless managers in the home dugout at Elland Road, Berardi quickly became a cult hero amongst the fans, revered for his selfless attitude and warrior-like spirit. He quickly became the personification of the clubs mantra: “side before self, every time”.
In two Championship seasons under Marcelo Bielsa, Berardi moved inside to play as a centre-back. He was, however, marred by injuries and restricted to just 13 and 22 appearances in 2018/19 and 2019/20 respectively.
He returned from injury at the end of last season and was picked to start against Derby County in Leeds’ first game as Champions, however he seriously injured his Anterior Cruciate Ligament which would see him sidelined for the best part of a year. He signed a 1-year contract extension with Leeds which meant he could be rehabilitated by Leeds’ medical team, and looks set to start this weekend in Leeds’ final game at home to West Bromwich Albion.
Berardi will be remembered mostly for his passion - Salim Lamrani nicknamed him ‘The Lion’ - as well as his selflessness for the good of the team. The image of him wielding crutches with the ‘We’re going up’ flag is the perfect image. Berardi has also posted an open letter to Leeds fans via The Square Ball:
| Gaetano Berardi has asked The Square Ball to share this open letter with #LUFC fans, alongside the official announcement that, after almost seven years, he's leaving @LUFC. pic.twitter.com/9TKg6Tq8kx— The Square Ball (@TheSquareBall) May 21, 2021
When Hernandez joined on-loan from Al-Arabi in 2017 he was almost a forgotten man, remembered vaguely from his days at Valencia and Swansea City. It’s fair to say that “El Mago” will never be forgotten again in West Yorkshire.
After signing permanently in the summer of 2017, the Spanish international went on to make 166 appearances for the club, scoring 34 goals and winning Leeds United’s Player of The Season award for three consecutive seasons in 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20.
Hernandez was consistently relied upon for his creative intuition, and often took control of games in which his side seemed bereft of ideas - Millwall comes to note, in which Hernandez scored twice, including a late winner, in a 3-2 victory. He has been a man of moments. Moments that will stay in the hearts of the Leeds faithful forever.
None more so than against his former side Swansea, perhaps Hernandez’ finest moment in a Leeds shirt. Bielsa had made a habit of bringing El Mago on to take control of games in which his side were struggling, and so he did at the Liberty Stadium. It took until the 89th minute for Luke Ayling to burst down the right-hand side and cut the ball back to the Spaniard, free around the penalty spot. And with a slightly scuffed stab at the ball it was in. Pablo Hernandez scored a goal for Leeds United.
A goal that gave us insight into both Pablo Hernandez and Gaetano Berardi. One capable of producing pure magic at exactly the right time, one completely and utterly sold out for the cause, no matter the role he was given. His celebration was primal.pic.twitter.com/QQBbsIo7eD— Graham Smyth (@GrahamSmyth) May 21, 2021
This season has been one of struggles for both Berardi and Hernandez for different reasons, the former recovering from the aforementioned injury whilst the latter struggled to accumulate many minutes in a side evolving faster than he is able to keep up with. But this evolution into a Premier League side would not have been possible at all, had it not been for their contributions over several seasons.
8,000 Leeds fans will be back at Elland Road to give them the best send off possible, as both look set to start in their final game at Elland Road. It doesn’t quite seem enough however. I’m not sure anything will ever be enough to repay them.
We wish you all the best, Bera and Pablo.