COMMENT By Richard Parks
It is a no-brainer, really.
Leeds United are not nearly so strong enough or brilliant enough at talent spotting that they cannot afford to prioritise extending the contract of Pablo Hernandez.
The playmaker has his off days, and his tendency to go missing during tough away matches, should prompt a rotation from Paul Heckingbottom that neither Thomas Christiansen or Garry Monk were willing to countenance.
But it is a sign of Hernandez’s continued significance at Leeds that his brilliantly-taken goal in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Reading was met with an avalanche of calls from supporters for the club to extend his contract.
You sense there would have been a similar feeling among the coaching staff when the Spanish maestro cut in on his right foot and rifled in an unstoppable shot to put Leeds 2-1 up at the Madejski Stadium.
Tellingly, Hernandez created five goal chances in the match, more than any other play on either side.
Aged 32, the Spaniard remains one of the few players in Leeds’ squad who can elevate the team’s play and produce a moment of magic to rip open up a defence in a close-fought Championship encounter.
He has his off days, but his touch, vision and set-piece excellence make him a key player. Even with his 33rd birthday next month, his game is dusted by sprinklings of genius.
Crucially, the summer 2016 arrival wants to extend his deal, which expires in the summer, and stay at Elland Road for a third season.
Speaking in an online fans forum a fortnight ago, Leeds director of football Victor Orta admitted that he will hold talks with Hernandez’s agent imminently.
Orta on Hernandez contract (expires in the summer) – I have to have discussions with his agent. Pablo said the other day that he wants to stay and that's the first step to reaching an agreement. We need to evaluate this in the short term. #lufc
— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) February 26, 2018
Orta explained that the player’s desire to stay is the first step to securing an agreement, although a better step, surely, would be for Leeds to actually make him an offer.
The team is not so good that they can plan for next season without the visionary Spaniard, who has scored seven times and supplied eight assists in all competitions this season.
Leeds must look to get Hernandez tied down before other offers come his way in the summer.
Sure, his best years might be behind him and he is at a time in his career when the days of long-term deals are not an option.
But a one-year contract extension, with the option to extend if set targets are hit, would be the perfect combination of reward and challenge for a player for whom the fire still burns bright.
In other Leeds United news, it can be revealed that the club have launched a bid to sign a Premier League centre-forward in the form of his life.