On the pitch? Leeds United's opposing forwards now glad Gaetano Berardi will be off it
“THE duels with the forwards - they always found him with conditions to overcome."
Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa hits the nail on the head when describing what Gaetano Berardi brought to Leeds United’s team.
Few forwards fancied a battle against him, if he stayed on the pitch that was.
Back in July 2014, Berardi was sent off in his very first game for a kung fu style high challenge on an Accrington player in the chest.
After serving a three-game ban, three games later he was off again, this time for a second booking in the 3-0 victory against Huddersfield Town.
For Berardi, things were not looking particularly good immediately after his switch from Sampdoria and it’s not always been plain sailing.
Yet nearly seven years on, the 32-year-old defender will depart the Whites this summer as one of the club’s most dependable, popular and loved players and one that will go down in Leeds United history in his own special way.
Initially, Berardi was making headlines for the wrong reasons at Leeds following two dismissals in his first four games. Leeds United love a hard man, but this was getting a bit much.
Five more reds were to follow and the biggest question marks yet were raised after the defender’s seventh dismissal in a Leeds shirt in the play-off semi final second leg against Derby County of May 2019.
Having seemingly cleaned up his act, Berardi was dismissed in the 78th minute of a tie delicately poised at 3-3 as Marcelo Bielsa’s Whites needed another goal to avoid defeat on away goals. Instead, the tie’s seventh goal went to the Rams just seven minutes after Berardi’s red card.
United’s season was done and for Berardi it looked like one red card too many.
Yet the transformation that Bielsa has managed from his squad is epitomised by Berardi who is now leaving as something of a hero, two years on from that red card against the Rams.
The defender got his head down and returned for a sixth season at Leeds and second term under Bielsa. His 2019-20 Championship campaign then featured 22 league outings. There was just a single yellow card and the one red, an eighth of his Leeds career, is best ignored.
Berardi was given his marching orders after being adjudged to have brought down Millwall’s Tom Bradshaw and denying the striker a goalscoring opportunity at The Den.
The defender trudged off the pitch for an eighth early bath but Leeds stuck by their man and the dismissal was overturned.
And rather reflecting the nature of his Whites career as a whole, Berardi returned to play a vital role in helping Bielsa’s Whites seal promotion in the ultimate style of Championship champions.
Even then, though, there was another battle to overcome.
Within 24 hours of Leeds sealing the Championship title, Berardi tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the very next game at Derby County.
A torn ACL is an awful injury for any player, let alone one who is out of contract that same summer. That was the predicament Berardi found himself in.
Yet once again, Leeds stood by their man in nursing the defender through his rehab and offering him a new deal until the following summer.
Having played a vital role in getting them there and increasingly as a centre-back, Berardi would have the chance to be a Premier League defender.
Ten months after his injury, he officially became one in replacing Diego Llorente in the Whites defence.
Three days on, Bielsa was asked if he had a particular stand out moment of Berardi’s time at Leeds. He did, and he didn’t have to go back far.
“The example is in the last game,” said United’s head coach.
“After a very long time without having played, he enters after the opponent had been superior to us in the first half.
"It is a team with important strikers and he collaborates to neutralise the superiority that Southampton had.”
All very different to his debut against Accrington, a bad start to what would prove a stellar stint at Leeds featuring 156 appearances and, eventually, two goals.
“If Berardi scores we’re on the pitch” went the song.
As far as the pitch is concerned, opposition forwards can breathe a sigh of relief now that Berardi will no longer be on it when Leeds play.
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Thank you Laura Collins