What next for Gaetano Berardi and Leeds United after seventh red card of Whites career?

Marcelo Bielsa’s suspicion that Leeds United’s squad might not have another season like this one in them is not the same as saying that overarching changes are coming this summer.

Wednesday, 22nd May 2019, 5:45 pm
Updated Wednesday, 22nd May 2019, 6:45 pm
Leeds United defender Gaetano Berardi sees red against Derby County.

Bielsa felt his players pushed themselves as far as they could go in the Championship but it would be unlike the club’s head coach to rip it up and start from scratch.

Leeds will attempt to find new players for him and seek to make much better use of the Premier League loan market than they did in his first transfer window but the blueprint and Bielsa’s ideas will not waver much.

This, so soon after the death of United’s play-off bid, is the pregnant pause where the club wait to decide who will stay, who could be expendable and who has reached the end of the line at Elland Road.

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Many of the players who figured regularly under Bielsa are, in spite of a semi-final defeat, reflecting on the best season they have had with Leeds and, in some cases, the best season of their careers. But the events of the second leg against Derby County brought critical scrutiny to bear on Gaetano Berardi and Kiko Casilla, both of whom finished the night with black marks against them.

Berardi, who has spent five full years with Leeds, is among the players who Bielsa respects most and a popular figure at Thorp Arch, despite a quiet and withdrawn personality.

Bielsa pushed him hard last summer, not only to trust his passing game more but to switch from full-back to the centre of defence and provide a link in the chain of distribution from the back.

Bielsa intended to use him throughout the season. Injury saw to it that Berardi started only 10 games.

What surfaced against Derby was Berardi’s rash streak, the ill-discipline which has stalked him at Leeds and taken his tally of red cards to seven, an unwanted record held jointly with Alan Smith.

There was an argument that Berardi had been fouled by Tom Lawrence prior to lunging in on Bradley Johnson but his foul was critical, earning a second booking and reducing Leeds to 10 men with 12 minutes to go and the tie level at 3-3 on aggregate.

Jack Marriott ran through a badly-stretched defence seven minutes later to send Derby to Wembley.

There were too many strands to the plot last Wednesday for the blame for defeat to lie solely with Berardi but his dismissal raised a familiar argument about temperament, judgement and the point at which a footballer so prone to red mist crosses the line and becomes a liability.

Berardi was sent off three times last season, indicative of a wider loss of discipline amongst the club’s squad, and made a public apology after his third, at home to Sunderland in April.

“I recognise that I made a big mistake, again,” he said at the time. “It’s not good enough for a senior professional player.

“It’s a big mistake but I’ll stop making mistakes when I die, I think. There’s a big fire in me and without it I can’t play football. If I remove this fire I just go home and find a job. That’s all I can say.”

Berardi’s contract is up next summer and Leeds have not yet spoken to him about an extension. Bielsa’s opinion of the Swiss is so high that he might be willing to look past a painfully expensive dismissal.

In Casilla’s case, his January move from Real Madrid brought him to Leeds on a contract which runs to 2023 and pays more than £30,000 a week. His first stint in the team ended with a performance that the average goalkeeper would not find it easy to come back from.

Bielsa spoke in early March about the “serenity” Casilla gave to his team, and back then it was evident: an air of positive arrogance, a back four who trusted what was behind them and good vision when it came to letting play flow from his own box.

But in the final two months of the season, his game was affected by the creep of errors and lapses of judgement, culminating in Derby’s game-changing goal before half-time at Elland Road last week.

The stadium has not seen a keeper lose his way to that extent since Paul Rachubka’s lasting nightmare against Blackpool in 2011 and Casilla’s first task next season would be to convince the crowd that he can bring his unpredictability under control.

This will be a long summer for him and Berardi as they look and wait for the chance to redeem themselves and right a scenario where a sombre Casilla disappeared quietly down the tunnel at Elland Road and a furious Berardi let his anger out by trying to put a fist through the side of it.

Moments like theirs are pivotal, and not easily forgotten.