With the Premier League firmly heading towards the business end of its campaign, time is running out for Leeds United’s Gaetano Berardi to make his long-awaited comeback from injury and finally taste a bit of top-flight football.
The Switzerland international has been out of action since last summer after picking up an ACL injury versus Derby County in the Championship, with the Whites making the incredibly classy gesture of handing him a one-year contract extension to provide him with a bit of support while he recovers.
Berardi is the club’s longest-serving first-team player since initially arriving from Serie A side Sampdoria back in 2014 and has played 155 games, but given recent reports linking the club with a move for Nicolas Nkoulou this summer, it appears his time at Elland Road may be coming to an end.
It’s been suggested that Nkoulou – who played under Marcelo Bielsa at Marseille – is a target the Leeds boss personally wants, with the Cameroon international set to be available on a free transfer once his own contract comes to an end.
The 30-year-old’s arrival would further add to the Whites’ centre-back ranks, and it’s certainly an area where Bielsa has a number of different options at his disposal when everybody is fully fit and firing.
He can call upon the likes of: Liam Cooper, Diego Llorente, Robin Koch, Luke Ayling, Pascal Struijk and even Leif Davis, and so Nkoulou’s arrival would further push Berardi onto the side-lines.
At 32, Berardi is in the twilight of his career, and given the seriousness of his knee injury, it’s difficult to see how he will ever get back to his powerful best for Leeds.
Clearly, the Swiss ace is still a major presence in the squad, with Bielsa himself declaring that “his opinion is one the changing room listens to, and also the staff.”
Indeed, The Athletic’s Phil Hay delivered an insight into Berardi’s influence at Elland Road, revealing: “People at Leeds try to make the point that Bielsa sees Berardi as a fundamentally good footballer who is easy to coach and easy to direct. Bielsa admires his discipline.”
But with Nkoulou’s possible arrival, the writing may well be on the wall for Berardi when his current contract comes to an end.