After saying goodbye to one of Leeds United’s most popular and impactful stars of the past decade, Marcelo Bielsa will be wondering where he might find the club’s new Pablo Hernandez.
At his best, the Spaniard was creative and exciting to watch, with his nimble footwork and eye for goal being a huge part of the Whites’ resurgence in the last couple of years.
As per Whoscored, in the 2018/2019 campaign in which he scored 12 and set up another 12, he averaged a whopping three key passes and 2.7 shots per game in the Championship.
In 175 games for the club, the veteran netted 36 goals and provided another 41 assists, a remarkable feat given that Hernandez was well into his 30s when he joined up at Elland Road.
And while those massive shoes are hard to fill, one academy sensation who may be hoping of bringing that same bit of Hernandez magic to Elland Road, is Stuart McKinstry.
The 18-year-old is similarly versatile in that while he can play as the number ten behind the striker, he can also play slightly deeper in central midfield as well as out wide too.
The Athletic’s Phil Hay is a big fan of the teenager, even going so far as to saying that he’s close to the first-team picture at the club on an episode of The Next Big Thing podcast, saying: “It’s development for him at the moment, but you’ll be noticing that quite a few younger players are starting to go out of Leeds on loan now.
“McKinstry’s still in the building and I think is most likely to stay in the building for now, and those that (Marcelo) Bielsa feels are closest to the first-team picture are the ones that he wants to stick around.”
And, in a separate article for The Athletic, Hay’s analysis of the starlet during the Whites’ U23s clash against Manchester United last season raises some serious comparisons between McKinstry and Hernandez in their style of play.
He said: “Leeds lost 1-0 after Henri Kumwenda’s red card in the second half but McKinstry shone while the game was 11-vs-11, cutting the opposition open with his speed of thought and balance, and showing a willingness to carry the ball.
“Those attacks demonstrated an ability to work in tight spaces and fashion chances from difficult positions — the wing play Bielsa looks for at first-team level.”
Hay added: “McKinstry is very much in the pack, a player Leeds always reference when you ask who might make the step up next.”
Standing at 5 foot 10, McKinstry is only a couple of inches taller than Hernandez, but that ability to “work in tight spaces”, and carry the ball before delivering an intelligent final pass is exactly what the former Leeds hero was especially good at.
At just 18, the young Scot has got all the time in the world to develop under Bielsa’s tutelage, and given all the struggles that Rodrigo has endured at Elland Road when playing in that role just behind Patrick Bamford, there is a real opening for a Thorp Arch academy star like McKinstry to take advantage.
McKinstry is more than a decade younger than the disappointing Rodrigo, and as Hay himself says, he’s in that bracket of players who “might make the step up next”.
The teenager could develop into the Whites’ long-term successor for Hernandez, and at the same time, overtake Rodrigo in the process over the years to come.