He was three months past his 29th birthday when he signed for Al-Arabi in Qatar, a move which implied that Hernandez’s better years were behind him. The ability remained, though, and Leeds United have been the stimulant for a career with plenty of life left in it.
Hernandez quit Swansea City for Qatar four-and-a-half years ago having underwhelmed his public in Wales and he would think back to his time at Valencia to find a stage when he was as influential as he is now.
Every year the question is asked about the 33-year-old’s fitness, his delicate hamstrings and his suitability for a league as relentless as the Championship. This season few players in the division seem to have a finer measure of it.
Bolton Wanderers 0 Leeds United 1: Phil Hay's verdict - Patrick Bamford back with a bang as life after Samuel Saiz beginsThe pass from Hernandez which set up Patrick Bamford’s winning strike away at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday was his seventh assist so far, more than any other player in the league.
With 22 games played, only three - Brentford’s Neal Maupay, Nottingham Forest’s Lewis Grabban and Norwich City’s Teemu Pukki - have been directly involved in more goals than Hernandez, despite the Spaniard missing a month-and-a-half with a muscle strain: seven goals, seven assists and doubtless more to come.
For two years Leeds were too often guilty of looking blindly to Hernandez when nothing else was working. He won both the club’s player-of-the-year award in 2017-18 as the last man standing after virtually every other member of the squad collapsed.
Under Marcelo Bielsa, Hernandez has been the finishing touch; the brain which converts so much of Leeds’ dominance into points on the board. Kemar Roofe is alone at Elland Road in producing more shots on goal than Hernandez. No-one scores higher for key passes or chances created per game.
Bolton Wanderers 0 Leeds United 1: Phil Hay's player ratings as Patrick Bamford starsHernandez’s ball to Bamford at Bolton was typical crafty, a gentle touch through the legs of Jack Hobbs which Bamford dispatched with assurance defying the three-and-a-half months he spent on the sidelines with a knee injury. Bamford was the story but Hernandez was the instigator, the type of player Bielsa constructs his teams around and a midfielder with the wit to pick a pass.
Last week Pontus Jansson called Hernandez “the best player I ever played with”. On Saturday, after 48 hours of news about Samuel Saiz’s imminent and surprising departure to Getafe, Jansson tweeted: “Remember one thing, this Leeds United isn’t about one, two or three important players.”
Whether Jansson was referencing Saiz or not, Leeds know whose Hispanic charm has been more profitable.