Leeds United's master and student - how Jack Clarke can learn from Pablo Hernandez

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Pablo Hernandez was Jack Clarke’s age when he traded the small-town feel of Castellon for the bright lights and comparative expanse of Valencia’s academy.

He will see shades of the player he was back then in the 18-year-old alongside him at Leeds United: precocious, unorthodox and ready to be fashioned into a high-calibre, out-and-out winger.

Leeds United's Pablo Hernandez and Jack Clarke celebrate at Bramall Lane.

Leeds United's Pablo Hernandez and Jack Clarke celebrate at Bramall Lane.

Marcelo Bielsa wants Clarke to learn from Hernandez, to identify the attributes and vision which coaching manuals never teach, and the teenager’s emergence at a time when Hernandez is on the books at Elland Road provides a rare opportunity for him.

The Spaniard is 33 and told the YEP in April that he is already giving thought to what might follow his retirement, even though his form this season is the best Leeds have seen from him. He will not be around forever.

Clarke is being offered an education by a footballer who arguably sold his own ability short by dropping out of the Premier League before his 30th birthday.

“Hernandez has many details Clarke can learn only by looking at him,” Bielsa said last week. “What Pablo does you can’t teach in the game.”

Leeds United's Pablo Hernandez celebrates at Bramall Lane.

Leeds United's Pablo Hernandez celebrates at Bramall Lane.

Hernandez is making waves with goals and assists – his seventh goal of the season earning Saturday’s 1-0 win at Sheffield United – but what Bielsa likes about him is his knack of taking up possession in tight, pressurised areas and opening up space for others around him.

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These days Hernandez is less of a winger than a playmaker, a string-puller who invariably pops up in the best moments of United’s performances. Clarke, on the evidence of five substitute appearances so far, is a winger in the old-fashioned sense: quick and direct, with a determination to hit the byline and do damage from there.

On Saturday it was Clarke’s quick thinking in response to a mistake by Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson which left Hernandez free to shoot into an empty net, in a situation where Clarke might have panicked and tried to score himself.

Bielsa can see rough edges around Clarke but a strong vein of confidence too.

Leeds United's Pablo Hernandez and Jack Clarke celebrate at Bramall Lane following Dean Henderson's mistake.

Leeds United's Pablo Hernandez and Jack Clarke celebrate at Bramall Lane following Dean Henderson's mistake.

“Every time he plays he makes the difference,” Bielsa said.

Hernandez has been similarly impressed by an academy product who turned professional exactly 12 months ago.

As is often the way at Thorp Arch, Clarke had been mentioned regularly in dispatches from development-squad matches and was a youngster who Leeds expected to break through.

He, like other youth-team graduates, is profiting from a head coach in Bielsa who was happy to forego experienced cover in his squad during the summer in the interests of trusting the players who Leeds’ academy was pushing his way.

“He (Clarke) has a lot of quality and I think he has a good future with this club,” Hernandez said. “He can be a big player in the future for Leeds United and he gives us different things on the pitch, on the wing and on both wings.

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“He’ll have more opportunities this season and the young players are important for us. They bring some positive things to the team.”

Leeds’ winner at Bramall Lane owed much to a Sheffield United brainfreeze – a misplaced back pass by John Egan and a rash attempt by Henderson to play out from the back regardless of the pressure on him – but Clarke was quickly on to the loose ball and turned it inside to an unmarked Hernandez before Henderson could dive to block it.

Hernandez met the delivery with a half-hit finish, clean enough to find the back of the net.

“After the press, Clarke took the ball and I’m free,” Hernandez said “I asked him for the ball, he passed it to me, the ball came with a bounce and I didn’t have too much time. I didn’t know if I had any opponent behind me so I shot and it wasn’t the best shot in my life. But importantly it was a goal.”

Bielsa is yet to start Clarke and there were inevitable imperfections in his display at Bramall Lane but he paints the picture of a prospect living the dream.

Fifteen years his elder, Hernandez is enjoying something of a fairytale himself, exerting influence and almost reversing the aging process.

Despite a feeling that his displays have dipped in the past month, he has served up four goals in five games and helped to win four of them.

“Obviously when you win games and you fight to go to the top of the league, everything is better,” Hernandez said. “I’m very happy here and I enjoy every game. One of the key things for me on the pitch is trying to enjoy it.

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"I help the team with goals and assists and with my work. It’s important and I try to give 100 per cent in every game.”

Leeds are on a run of five wins in seven games and it is a mark of Norwich City’s consistency – seven victories from eight and an astonishing haul of 11 in 14 – that Bielsa’s side are not at the top of the Championship.

Saturday’s result left them one point adrift, with 39 points from 20 fixtures and a haul very close to the magic figure of two points a match.

The club’s next opponents this weekend are Queens Park Rangers, a side who took time to get going under Steve McClaren but have enjoyed bursts of momentum under him.

“It’s a difficult game,” Hernandez said.

“I watched some Queens Park Rangers games and they’ve improved.

“But obviously we’re arriving in the next game in a good moment, with three wins in a row. We’ll try to keep it this way, to keep this spirit and this style. It’s the best way to win.”