With 155 games played for the club, Gaetano Berardi proved himself to be a rock at the back for Leeds United as they fought their way to the promised land of the Premier League.
He first started playing for the Elland Road side back in the 2014/2015 campaign, and featured in 22 of the Whites’ promotion-winning campaign in the Championship last season.
But after suffering an ACL tear in a 3-1 win over Derby at the back end of last season, Berardi’s future is well and truly up in the air, what with his contract at the club expiring this summer.
Speaking after confirmation of Berardi’s injury, Bielsa himself said: “Berardi, for all of us, is an example. Don’t think the fact I say he is an example, I don’t value his football characteristics. The 30 minutes he played in the last match was one of the best performances he had in two years.
“In the social life of the team, he is very important and I imagine Berardi is the person you have to ask what we should do. Sometimes I considered asking him when I had doubts. Of course, my job is to make decisions and I had more doubt than certainty. More than once, I had this feeling to take advice from him.”
The Swiss ace’s influence has extended to matters outside of the pitch, with him becoming a real leader and stalwart of the dressing room at Elland Road.
Leeds showed a fabulous touch of class by handing the £35k-a-week ace a new contract until the end of this season, knowing full well that he would miss most of it recovering from his knee surgery.
Leeds United confirm that Gaetano Berardi has signed a new contract to the end of the 2020-21 season. Much of that will cover his rehab after ACL surgery – a nice move for a player who deserved support after committing at the end of last season. #lufc pic.twitter.com/h2ZPPNaUCP
— Phil Hay (@PhilHay_) October 16, 2020
But given he’ll turn 33 in August, Berardi’s career is at a real crossroads. Being out for such a long time with a knee injury is difficult to deal with and get over at any age, but for someone like the Switzerland international, it’s pretty unlikely he will now get back to his best.
It would be a ruthless call from Andrea Radrizzani to let Berardi walk away when his contract expires, especially given the kind of loyal service he has given to Leeds over the years.
But the time has surely come now for both parties to move on. It might leave Bielsa fuming, seeing one of his most trusted lieutenants and leaders leave, but it’s the right call at the right time.