'We have great sadness' - Marcelo Bielsa's stirring tribute to departing Leeds United fan favourites
Marcelo Bielsa has paid tribute to the professionalism, footballing ability and contribution to life at Leeds United of departing duo Pablo Hernandez and Gaetano Berardi.
Both men will leave the club this summer having made a memorable mark on the club and its fanbase.
Hernandez will perhaps be remembered best for the winning goal at Swansea City last season that all-but guaranteed promotion, while Berardi's full-blooded dedication and appetite for physical challenges made him a fan favourite.
Bielsa says their exits bring sadness for everyone at Leeds.
"They have been a reference for Leeds, for the team, for the squad, for the fans, two excellent professionals, great team mates," said the head coach.
"They are footballers who have been very influential, very decisive. Sincerely, throughout the three years, I have had great respect for how they go about their profession and of course football wise they have a lot of ability too. And for the club, we have great sadness that they will no longer be part of the institution."
Hernandez is expected to return home to Spain, where his family are residing and where he is part-owner of his local club CD Castellón, while Berardi had come to the end of his contract and is thought to have similar intentions, with a move back to Europe on the cards.
Bielsa insists both were welcome to stay part of his plans, but acknowledged a reduction in game time was in their thinking.
"On the subject of Pablo and the same on the subject of Berardi, I would have been satisfied had they continued in the squad I manage," he said.
"After, there are decisions that each one takes, I can't lose sight of the fact that there's a loss of protagonism due to the nature of time, expressed in the lowering of the amount of minutes that they play. But I continue to consider them important."
Berardi's versatility and dedication to the team made him a valuable part of the squad for the head coach, who brought him on for his Premier League debut at half-time on Tuesday against Southampton.
"In relation to Berardi he's a player who is a noble competitor, he is a player whose football conditions I value a lot," he said.
"I think he's a current player that still has years of football in front of him. That's why I also would have valued had he stayed. For me he's a very complete player and he's a team player. He's a player who can resolve in every defensive position, which he has done, and he's very loved by everyone given that he gives everything, the duals with the forwards, they always found him with conditions to overcome them. The examples in the last game after a very long time having not played, he enters after the opponent had been superior to us in the first half, a team with important strikers and he collaborates to neutralise the superiority Southampton had."
Hernandez' ability to spot passes that others could not see and his footballing brain enabled him to conjure up magic in numerous important games for Leeds, particularly in the latter stages of last season despite carrying an injury.
Bielsa feels responsibility for the disparity between the game time the 36-year-old wanted and merited and how often he actually played this season.
"Pablo at the start was the right winger of our team and after as an offensive midfielder," said the Argentine.
"He is a player with football intelligence that is very, very high. He's a player who finds the ball with a lot of ease. He's a player who can see the movements of the team and pick the best pass and some technical resources that permit him to be able to do those things that he sees. The possibilities of Pablo are not linked to his physical level, that he does have, but due to his intelligence and experience.
"Apart from that he's a player that always wants the ball. When the game is easy it's easy to want the ball all the time. But when the game is difficult of course it's a virtue when you want the ball and you don't have a lot of time.
"This last year of Premier League, I can't ignore that Pablo didn't have the minutes he would have wanted or that he would have deserved, because I think he would have deserved them and I can't ignore that I'm responsible that he didn't have more protagonism than he did. I want to take on that responsibility because it's true."