Gaetano Berardi: The warrior prowling on the touchline

    SWANSEA, WALES - AUGUST 21: Leeds United's Gaetano Berardi during the pre-match warm-up during the Sky Bet Championship match between City and Leeds United at Liberty Stadium on August 21, 2018 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Kevin Barnes - CameraSport via Getty Images)

    Whether Leeds United are to secure promotion this season remains tantalisingly in the balance. It has been a captivating journey so far under the guidance of Marcelo Bielsa, a man who has raised the profile of the club to another level.

    For all the coverage of intrigued onlookers such as the BBC’s Guillem Balagué and Four Four Two magazine when examining the Argentinian coach’s wonderfully eccentric methods, Leeds may end up falling just short.

    With the potential for the automatic promotion race to be undecided right until the very end of the Championship season, it is clear Leeds will need big characters within their set-up if they are to get over the line.

    One man whose character and unwavering enthusiasm cannot be questioned is Gaetano Berardi, someone currently inactive in terms of minutes on the pitch.

    While he may be missing from the action where it really matters, there is no doubt the Swiss defender will be kicking every ball (and opponent) from the touchline in his mind, willing his teammates on.  

    LEEDS, ENGLAND – AUGUST 31: Britt Assombalonga of Middlesbrough FC competes for the ball with Gaetano Berardi of Leeds United during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Middlesbrough at Elland Road on August 31, 2018 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

    You only have to look at the scenes as Leeds prevailed 3-2 over Millwall last month to see what it means to Berardi. He is as desperate as anyone for the club to succeed irrespective of whether he is in the starting eleven or not.

    As Pablo Hernandez inspired Leeds to victory over the Londoners, Berardi was celebrating wildly by the dugouts, unable to contain his frenzied euphoria.

    Bielsa’s translator Salim Lamrani posted a picture of Berardi moments after the win.

    Neck bulging, tight grip on Gjanni Alioski’s top, shouting at the crowd in delight, outsiders could have been forgiven for thinking Berardi was the match-winner himself were it not for the fact he was wearing a training jumper and bib.

    Slimani’s post simply read: Gaetano “The Lion” Berardi.

    A selfless determination for teammates to succeed is exactly the type of spirit needed within promotion-chasing camps. There is no place for sulkers prepared to disrupt the harmony of the squad if they are confined to the substitute’s bench or stands.

    Following an injury against Ipswich Town, Berardi has seen Luke Ayling, Liam Cooper and Pontus Jansson rightfully cement their positions ahead of him. Not for one split-second will this have left him embittered by the personal setback though.

    “I just want to give my best for this team even if I am not playing,” he told the official programme in March.

    “There is a key role for the players who are not playing, they are some of the most important players because if we push the players in the starting eleven, they have to push and perform as much as possible, which gives us the best chances of winning games.”

    For supporters, Berardi has become something of a cult hero, and his words live up to the tag that this is someone who really understands what it means to be Leeds.

    SWANSEA, WALES – AUGUST 21: Gaetano Berardi of Leeds United battles with Oli McBurnie of Swansea City during the Sky Bet Championship match between Swansea City and Leeds United at the Liberty Stadium on August 21, 2018 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

    Ever since he was sent-off on his Leeds debut in August 2014 for a karate-kick on an Accrington Stanley opponent, Berardi has endeared himself to the Leeds faithful. He brings something refreshingly honest to the club (and yes he’s a bit loco too).

    In other words, he typifies the same no-nonsense way of going about his business which made the likes of David Batty, Norman Hunter, Billy Bremner and Gordon Strachan iconic club legends.

    Distinctive players with a distinctively Leeds United style of aggressive ambition.

    Berardi may not be anywhere near the calibre of those mentioned above, but Leeds fans love him all the same as he brings the same level of desire which can make obscure names become everyone’s pal at Elland Road. Just ask Andrew Hughes.

    LEEDS, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 19: Gaetano Berardi of Leeds United tackles Connor Roberts of Middlesbrough during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Middlesbrough at Elland Road on November 19, 2017 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

    The sight of blood streaming down Berardi’s face became something of a novelty for Leeds fans. This was especially the case when coming up against Rotherham during the 2015-16 season.

    First, he was caught by a Leon Best elbow at Elland Road, leaving him with a bloodied nose and a red card after an angry retaliation.

    During the reverse fixture in South Yorkshire he was again caught by an elbow, which left him resembling something more from a horror movie than a football pitch. Matt Derbyshire was sent-off as Berardi battled on until the 74th minute. The two episodes could only have happened to Berardi in truth.

    Fast forward to 2019, and one thing for certain in this unpredictable drama is that, if were Leeds to succeed, Berardi would be right at the heart of the celebrations.

    BURNLEY, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 19 Gaetano Berardi of Leeds United with a bloody face during the Carabao Cup Third Round match between Burnley and Leeds United at Turf Moor on September 19, 2017 in Burnley, England. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

    While it would be wrong to say he is fully content when watching from the sidelines, Bielsa knows Berardi will be raring to be called upon whenever required in the final six games.

    Whether he plays all or no minutes of the remaining games, he will be doing everything he possibly can to inspire those around him.

    Warriors aren’t ones for shying away after all.