PABLO Hernandez was not exactly aware of the full extent of the rivalry between Leeds United and Manchester United upon signing for the Whites.
“I remember one day I go to Elland Road with red trainers,” recalls the Spaniard.
“Somebody told me, ‘No, no, no, not red here!’.”
Three years after his arrival at Leeds, Hernandez will get a first taste of experiencing that rivalry in Perth on Wednesday as the Whites and Red Devils lock horns in Australia for a pre-season ‘friendly’.
Hernandez cannot wait. After being team-mates at Valencia, the Spaniard is already eyeing up Juan Mata’s shirt.
Yet the 34-year-old’s overriding ambition is to ensure meetings between the Red Devils and Whites are somewhat more regular with Hernandez determined to repeat last year’s brilliant best to finally fire Leeds up after a 16-year wait.
Hernandez is among a squad of 16 players that Leeds have sent to Australia for this summer’s pre-season tour which also features Saturday’s clash against A-League side Western Sydney Wanderers.
Hernandez, though, knows that tomorrow’s clash against the Red Devils is the one that has whetted the appetite the most with Hernandez himself unable to hide his enthusiasm for taking on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
Nearly eight years have passed since the Roses rivals last clashed swords in a Carling Cup tie at Elland Road in September 2011.
Hernandez was 26 at the time and into his final season at Valencia having re-signed for the Spanish giants from Getafe in 2008.
The midfielder’s first three years at the Mestella saw him line up alongside Mata who himself had checked in at Valencia in 2007 from Real Madrid Castilla.
The duo enjoyed some fine moments together with Valencia riding high in the Champions League spots in La Liga before first Mata and then Hernandez went their separate ways to Chelsea and Swansea City respectively.
Eight years on since the duo last lined up alongside one another for Valencia, there will be a reunion in Perth tomorrow with the pair having already exchanged text messages with a view to swapping matchday shirts.
Hernandez, though, admits his ultimate concern is on United swapping divisions and finally sealing promotion to the Premier League to join the Red Devils after last year’s near miss.
“I haven’t lived these games, but the people tell me some things,” said Hernandez.
“Obviously it’s a special game for us, for both clubs and for the fans. I think it’s a good moment, a good experience being in Perth and we hope we can enjoy this game. The players, and most importantly the fans.
“We want to play this game in the Premier League in the future. I think it’s very important for the fans because we want to see this game more times in the future.
“I’m sure the fans have been waiting for this game for a long time. Not just in England, outside England. I think Leeds is one of the biggest clubs and it’s a big moment for our fans.”
A big moment for United’s fans and also a big moment for Hernandez in being reunited with Mata. The duo were not just team-mates but room-mates at Valencia.
“When I arrived here, I text him and he text me ‘see you Wednesday’,” said Hernandez.
“He told me he wants my shirt and I want his shirt. I have a lot of his shirts but I want the new one. He was my team-mate for four years in Valencia and my room-mate and I am happy to play against him.
"The best memory for me is I played in the Champions League with Valencia and we played at Old Trafford. We drew 1-1 and I scored the goal. It was special for me because I am the only one in Valencia to score in this stadium.”
Even in a pre-season friendly, Hernandez would again be the toast of Leeds if netting against the Red Devils in Perth and the Spanish magician is hoping to repeat his brilliant heroics of last season and show age ain’t nothing but a number at 34.
“I will try,” said Hernandez.
“I know it is difficult but I give 100 per cent again this year to arrive at my best level. I know it is difficult for me but I work every day for this. I hope to be like that. If I arrive at that level I can help the team to the target and try to reach its goal. That is important for me.
"Obviously I don’t feel like I was when I was 25 but I feel good and I showed this in the last year. I try to do it again this year.”