When FourFourTwo met Pablo Hernandez: the power behind the Leeds throne
Strange as it may seem, plenty of footballers don’t particularly like being interviewed.
Sure, they’ve got their clichés to trot out – who doesn’t love hearing about how “it’s all about the three points”? – but these are usually because they’re a) tired post-game; b) nervous or c) bored. Few are the players who actually stop, think and answer your questions with genuine interest.
When they do, they stand out. Pablo Hernandez stands out. We meet the Leeds winger in an alcove off the players’ room – complete with pool table, darts board and log fire – at the club’s perfectly appointed Thorp Arch training ground, near Wetherby.
Sat forwards on a low-profile sofa, the Spaniard is a considered interviewee whose intensity in his answers mirrors his on-field demeanour. Whether it’s talking about investing in his hometown team Castellon in Spain’s third tier, or why this Leeds team is only just getting started, he wants you to understand why he’s giving you the response he is.
True, it helps that we talk in Hernandez’s native Spanish, but you get the impression it would be the same in his second language.
“This city deserves a Premier League team,” he says. “We take 7,000 away fans to most games. You don’t realise before you come here what the relationship between club and city is like. This is a sleeping giant and we want to change that.”
There’s a lived-in look to Hernandez. He’s Leeds’ elder statesman and revels in the role.
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He was once a Champions League regular for Valencia – Juan Mata’s old room-mate, and the pair remain close – and his experience is vital in the club’s run in. It’s little wonder that it was the 33-year-old who scored Leeds’s fastest ever goal in the 4-0 thrashing of fellow promotion chasers West Brom, and who inspired their comeback against Millwall at the weekend.
“Coming to Leeds is the best decision I’ve made in my career,” Hernandez says, passion coming to the fore in his delivery. He readily admits it would also be his proudest moment if the Whites return to the Premier League for the first time in 14 seasons. He knows the number without having to be reminded.
Achieve that, and Pablo Hernandez will be granted mythical status in West Yorkshire. As if he wasn’t already. And to think he didn’t even make the Championship Team of the Year.
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Out Wednesday! Featuring Phil Hay's eight-page story on the inside story of Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds