Pablo Hernandez and Leeds United - two paths that always seemed destine to intertwine at Elland Road
When Pablo Hernandez first heard of Leeds United he was just a schoolboy.
David O’Leary’s young charges had been making waves in Europe, and had one final hurdle to jump before reaching the promised land of the Champions League final.
That hurdle was Valencia, where Hernandez was learning his footballing trade at the tender age of 16.
United played out a 0-0 draw with Los Ches at home, before Leeds saw their European dream ended in emphatic fashion as they fell to a 3-0 defeat in the return leg at a raucous Mestella.
Valencia were the victors, but Hernandez was left with a permanent memory of Elland Road blazoned across his television screen.
Eighteen years later and those days feel like a lifetime ago for both club and player with the two having seen so much in the years since.
Now, at the age of 34, Hernandez and Leeds know all about each other.
“I was in the Valencia academy,” Hernandez revealed.
“When I was young, I started to know Leeds when they play in the semi-finals of the Champions League against Valencia. I remember I saw the games on the TV.
"Obviously my team in this game was Valencia. But you can feel when you see the game that Elland Road is a special stadium.
“I remember the players who played in the game. [Alan] Smith, [Mark] Viduka, [Paul] Robinson and Rio Ferdinand. I know they played here at that time. When I come here I know more from the history of the club. The old players and the idols. It’s special to be part of it.
"I saw some pictures from that game in the stadium and it’s always been special for me.”
Growing up at local side Castellon – a club he now owns shares in – and La Liga giants Valencia proved pivotal in his formative years as a young playmaker.
Leeds and Hernandez have seen very different paths since the day they locked eyes in a living room all those years ago.
Hernandez has been at the Camp Nou and Bernabeu, while United have seen the likes of Hereford, Carlisle and Walsall with memories of European nights long into the rear view mirror.
The pair have now been brought together by a common goal, a goal that Hernandez remembers seeing the heights of himself as a youngster.
Hernandez, though, has one man to thank for leading his motivation to get where he is today, and without him perhaps Leeds wouldn’t be reaping the rewards of a player who can turn a game in an instant.
“Michael Laudrup was my idol when I was a kid,” he said.
“He played for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Ajax. I remember I had a Real Madrid shirt with his name on the back.
“When I go to play with Getafe he was the manager. I lived a good year with him and I came back to Valencia. After four years he called me again to come to the Premier League with Swansea.
“For me, it’s special that my idol from when I was a kid wanted to work with me as a manager. It’s really unbelievable for me.”
Now, with Leeds United, Hernandez is feeling something similar under current head coach Marcelo Bielsa.
The Spaniard, who has four caps for his country, has gone back to being that schoolboy that first laid eyes on Elland Road once again.
“Everybody feels that Marcelo is a special manager,” he continued.
“He’s a special person. Myself and my team-mates feel this every day in the training ground and in the matches.
“I think, for me, it’s a surprise that he came here.
“When I started to work with him, sometimes you think you have experience, you’re an old player and you know everything in football.
“You can watch and see this isn’t true.
“At 33 and 34, I can still learn new things in football and this is why it is a great experience for me to work with him.”
That experience has brought the best out of Hernandez so far.
Twelve goals and twelve assists saw him named the club’s player of the season last term, whilst helping the Whites to new heights on the playing surface as they missed out on promotion at the final push in May.
The Spaniard, though, has nothing but pride in representing a club and city which are now close to his heart.
“It’s an honour for me as a player,” he said.
“To be part of this club and 100 years of history. It’s amazing.
“This is proof that this club is a big, big club.”