Ill-fitting fate of Leeds United trio is not right fit for Whites man considering January decision
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Fifty-nine goals in 220 games for the club founded in the same year as Leeds did that. Even if Rodrigo's six years with Los Che yielded no more than a Copa del Rey winner's medal - admittedly in an era dominated by Barcelona and Real Madrid - he was part of the Mestalla furniture. That was reflected in the selfie requests at the airport just after he landed back in his old haunt, and in the well wishers who gathered at the team's hotel and training ground.
But there was just as much excitement inside the Oliva Nova Golf Resort hotel when another Spaniard who once thrilled the Valencian community rocked up. Pablo Hernandez remains as popular with the remaining members of Leeds United's promotion team as he does with the club's fanbase, a fact evidenced as much by the delight in the voice of a senior player relaying the news of his visit, as the West Yorkshire pilgrims who have flocked to Castellón to witness his post-Elland Road career.
The wizard was part of the furniture, but very much a luxury household item for a Championship club because he could do so much in so little space. And the things he did, like the goal he squeezed perfectly inside the right-hand post at Swansea to all-but confirm Leeds' ascencion to the promised land, carved out for him a permanent space in the hearts of his team-mates and his adoring public. It's still a crime that the single most important goal of his 36 in the colours of the Peacocks was scored behind closed doors and it's scant consolation, if any, that his farewell appearance was witnessed by 8,000 at Elland Road.
The pandemic stole things far more precious from so many, yet the icy fingers of its cruelty still reached into areas of life that took a backseat to matters of health, and were painfully felt. That final appearance against West Brom was never going to do as a fitting goodbye for a man so beloved by a fanbase so madly devoted. He deserved so much more.
The same can be said, with just as much feeling, about Gaetano Berardi - a more rugged but no less loveable part of the furniture - whose last game for the club came on the same day. It goes without saying that Marcelo Bielsa's goodbye was as improper as could be, given his impact on the club.
So it would be a shame if a similar fate was in store for Mateusz Klich, a man who made himself so at home at Elland Road that they let him paint the walls.
There are times when exits begin to feel inevitable and this is one of them, not least because it was a possibility in the last transfer window and events since then have done little to suggest Klich will walk his path in Leeds colours for very much longer. Even if he decides that a new life in Washington, D.C is not for him, his girlfriend and his young daughter, and even if no other January offer tempted him enough to leave the comforts of Harrogate, the end cannot be far away. He's not playing enough, for a player who at Leeds has discovered what it is to play week in and week out, and it's difficult to see that reality changing.
Any arguments against a potential departure will centre around fondness for Klich and the shrinkage of Jesse Marsch's options, but no one will begrudge him a move if it brings the regular football and contentment he deserves as his career enters its final quarter.
The right to play was so hard earned in this case, because Klich ran himself through permanent tiredness in seach of the goals, assists, key passes, tackles and fouls that helped Leeds go up. He might not possess the same wizardry as Hernandez but magic still came from Klich's boots - the goal at Elche was a timely reminder, before poignant full-time scenes hinted at reports of DC United interest that emerged a day later.
To become as popular as Klich is at Leeds, it takes more than just on-field contributions, it takes personality and there's something about his irreverent, off-beat sense of humour and total lack of care for the opinions of others that resonates deeply with fans of this club. Being a funny guy does not a legend make, though, and it's the total combination of nearly 200 appearances, 24 goals, countless kilometres covered and dozens of brilliant tweets, that should amount to a proper goodbye, when the time comes.
Football sometimes refuses to afford such a thing, because transfers can be months in the building and then mere hours in the finalising. Players can go to sleep ahead of a matchday for one club and be on their way to a new one before finishing their breakfast. But if Klich is to join Hernandez, Berardi and Bielsa in the after-Leeds, then football owes him, and the fans, a parting that is fit and proper, in a full-to-the-very-brim Elland Road.