'I'll never forget this club or these fans' - Pablo Hernandez on love for Leeds United, his exit and a difficult season
Pablo Hernandez says he could never have imagined the love he would feel from Leeds United fans when he arrived in 2016.
The Spaniard will depart Elland Road after Sunday's game against West Brom after coming to an agreement with the club, despite a year remaining on his contract.
He leaves with a place in history secured having scored the goal that all-but guaranteed promotion to the Premier League last season at Swansea City.
For Hernandez, who scored 35 others in his 174 appearances, that was the most memorable of his time at Leeds.
"I think I scored beautiful goals here but the most important goal was the Swansea goal," he told BBC Leeds.
"It was a special moment. One of the moments I will never forget in my life. I can't describe this moment. Honestly I can't remember what I thought at this moment. I wanted to love the celebration with my team-mates, I can't remember what I thought, what I said."
His status as a fan favourite was earned long before the ball hit the net in Wales, however.
A playmaker with vision and outrageous skill, Hernandez set up 41 goals for the Whites and created numerous chances, as well as putting in the hard work to defend.
The sheer depth of the love fans feel for him is something he did not anticipate when he made what was at first a temporary move from Rayo Vallecano, before becoming a permanent Leeds player.
"When I came I remember knowing it was to a big club in England, but for different reasons in the last years could not be in the Premier League, they had a lot of problems," he recalled.
"I couldn't imagine when I arrived that I could feel this from the fans, it's unbelievable. I think when they see I give my best, 100 per cent every day, they love this type of player."
He credits head coach Marcelo Bielsa for teaching him that there is always something new to learn in football and helping him to improve even as he enters the twilight of his career, but admits the last year has been difficult. Niggling injuries have disrupted his season and with both Tyler Roberts and Rodrigo playing the vast majority of games in the number 10 role, Hernandez has been restricted to a bit-part role.
"The last year was not the best for me, it's a difficult situation for me, I didn't play much," he said.
"I never felt this in my career, I always felt like an important player in the squad and played with regularity, but this year I can see the other part of the football, when you don't play, when you're not important in the squad in the field. I know I can be important in the dressing room, helping my team-mates. I know that for my team-mates I am an important player, important person and I try to give my best.
"It's not the most positive last year but I leave Leeds United thinking of the best moments and now try to enjoy this last game. It's not the best way to say goodbye because all the fans can't be involved in the stadium but I know they understand the situation and I think it's the best moment to say goodbye. Not just for me but the club. Both parts are talking in the last month and we think it's the best to take this decision. Obviously I'll never forget this time in Leeds. For me it's been a pleasure to be part of this club, the history of this club. I tried always to give my best for this club, I don't have words to say thank you to this club and the fans. From the first day I felt the love, the support every game, every day, not just for me but for my family too. I can't describe this. I know a lot of people won't forget me, but for my part I'll never forget this club or these fans."
Hernandez plans to return to Spain to be reunited with his wife Mar, who is pregnant with their third child, but his departure from Leeds United does not signal the end of his career. He is unsure where his footballing future lies but he knows who he will be supporting.
"I am still playing, I don't say goodbye to the football," he said.
"I think I have more to do in football. Two or three more years in a good level to compete . I don't know where. I think it's time to go home, enjoy with my family, the new baby is coming, rest and then I have time to think and take the decision for me and my family.
"This is the end of my way here in Leeds after five years but I am very happy with what I've done here, what I've done for the club and what the club and these fans have done for me. They have one more fan in Spain and I continue following this club, I'll watch the games and try to support this team for the rest of my life."