Pablo Hernandez’s double nutmeg won Leeds the title in week one
Pablo Hernandez’s move to Leeds was the kind of transfer that often doesn’t work at all, let alone work as well as it did.
The Spaniard was a top player in his day without question, but the idea of signing a 31-year-old from the Qatar Stars League is essentially the opposite of a sure bet.
Sometimes, though, you just need someone capable of reminding any opponent at any time that they’re at your mercy.
You don’t sign Pablo Hernandez because he was ‘once great’ or ‘once played in the Premier League’ – you do it because of what he can offer you now.
You sign him because his mere presence gives opponents the fear that you can do what you want to them, and his actions turn that fear into reality.
We saw this on the opening day of the 2019-20 season, with a devastation of Bristol City’s Callum O’Dowda which set the tone for the season ahead.
A year ago today…
— The Second Tier (@secondtierpod) August 4, 2020
Hernandez recognises everything in the Championship is just a temporary barrier to Leeds’ promotion, and this is even more true after the late collapse in 2018-19.
He’s a 110 metre hurdler getting to the finish line and seeing another hurdle laid out in front of him but acting like it’s the most natural thing ever.
When you look at a still of the moment he completes the first nutmeg, you’re within your rights to be baffled. The angles don’t make sense.
In normal circumstances, the touch would surely take the ball into contact with O’Dowda’s shins. The only way to turn it into a nutmeg is – that’s right – mind control.
Given this, it becomes easier to understand why the second nutmeg isn’t just possible but necessary.
The first should be enough for the Bristol City man to concede out of embarrassment and shrivel into a ball. Under no circumstances should he still be on his feet.
It’s like a supervillain firing a dozen rounds of bullets at his target, only for them to brush the dust of their tuxedo as they walk out from behind a barrier which should have been far too flimsy to offer any kind of protection.
Obviously, then, Hernandez has to destroy him again, just to make sure.
The history books will tell you Callum O’Dowda played a further 31 Championship games last season, but the history books are wrong.
The Irishman was killed by Pablo Hernandez on August 4, 2019, and replaced with a lookalike thereafter.
What, you’re expecting us to believe anyone recovers from such a brutal double nutmeg and lives to tell the tale? No one’s naïve enough to fall for that.
If this was any normal game, we’d be talking about the goal Hernandez scored, one of the best from anyone in the country that weekend. However, some things are more important than simply sticking the ball in the back of the net.
With the benefit of hindsight, it can be tempting to say it was obvious from week one that Leeds would win the Championship.
Of course, things are never that simple in the second tier, but Hernandez’s double-nutmeg went some way to setting the tone for a memorable campaign.
Humiliating those around you is a start, but it moves up a level when you do so comprehensively enough that any answer they claim to possess is useless in the face of your dominance.
With what he did to Callum O’Dowda, Pablo Hernandez sent a message to the rest of the Championship. After that, no one could stop him or Leeds; they could only make it a little bit harder.
By Tom Victor