One of the defining, and most agonising, images of Leeds United’s season last term came at Griffin Park as Marcelo Bielsa consoled Pablo Hernandez with the Whites’ automatic-promotion hopes all but dashed.
Leeds somehow did not do enough to book a ticket to the Premier League. But Hernandez certainly had, with 12 goals and 12 assists in the Championship.
When all things are considered, it is difficult to argue that anyone other than Hernandez has been the best player the Whites have had since relegation in 2004. There have been 28 goals and 32 assists in 133 second tier appearances. On average, he has had a direct hand in 0.46 goals per game.
Since Marcelo Bielsa arrived, it has been 0.54 goals per game. It is a remarkable return for a player who will turn 35 the day after Leeds face Stoke next April.
And it is also remarkable because there has been a sense this season that Leeds fans are yet to see the very best of Hernandez.
There have been flashes of brilliance. He was the man to finish off a stunning counter-attack at Huddersfield earlier this month. Hernandez has also provided two sensational passes for Helder Costa in the Whites’ last two games: the first resulted in the own goal that broke the deadlock in the win against Hull, while the second set Costa up for the opener against Cardiff City.
His overall performances have arguably been more mixed than he would like. But Hernandez is perhaps as important to Leeds now as he has ever been.
Contract agreement a masterstroke
And that is why the club sorting his future earlier this season has to be considered a masterstroke. Leeds confirmed on their official website less than a month ago that Hernandez is set to stay until 2022.
It would not have helped anyone if Hernandez and Bielsa were having to answer questions about his future for much of the campaign.
But the situation is now resolved. Hernandez has played six games since the announcement. And he has scored one and provided two assists in his last four outings.
He continues to change games while not at his best. And if he does rediscover his very best form again, Hernandez will surely guide Leeds over that hurdle that somehow proved to be too big last season.