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How Leeds' Gaetano Berardi has turned his reputation around

Elland Road

Many Leeds fans had given up on the ex-Sampdoria man after some early season discrepancies, but now the tough-tackling defender is winning them round.

26-year-old Berardi was one of the 15 players brought in by Leeds president Massimo Cellino and his Director of Football Nicola Salerno in a manic summer of squad building. Few fans knew anything about a number of the players brought in, but nine months later, Berardi is arguably the most popular of the 'famous 15'.

Many of Cellino's signings have barely featured this season - such as Zan Benedicic, Brian Montenegro, Caspar Sloth, Stuart Taylor and Dario Del Fabro - while the fans' jury is out on the commitment of other signings that have been caught up in the injury scandal of the past week - Marco Silvestri, Mirco Antenucci, Guiseppe Bellusci and Souleyamne Doukara. Brazilian Adryan, Nicky Ajose - now on loan at Crewe - and injured midfielder Tommaso Bianchi have largely flattered to deceive in the Championship.

Two key signings last summer were Billy Sharp and Liam Cooper, and while both have had their moments in a Leeds shirt, neither have truly convinced. Sharp has struggled to find the net, with just five goals this season, while Cooper was made captain before Christmas, but inconsistency has seen him in and out of the side in recent months.

This leaves Swiss defender Gaetano Berardi, who made an inauspicious start to his Leeds career when he was sent off on his debut for a wild challenge on an Accrington Stanley player in the League Cup win in August. While not an automatic choice at right-back, Berardi did make some early appearances in the first team, but was sent off again in his fourth game for the club, the 3-0 win over Huddersfield Town.

At this point in his Leeds career Berardi had been suspended for more games than he had been available for, and many fans had already given up on him. Indeed his performances at right-back were equally erratic and between October and early March, Berardi made only fleeting appearances in the first-team.

A formation re-shuffle against Wigan Athletic away on March 7th, however, found Berardi tried at left-back, when Charlie Taylor was moved into midfield, and finally the permanent signing from Sampdoria is repaying Neil Redfearn's faith with a string of consistent performances.

Berardi's style now looks suited to the Championship. He is strong, fast and dogged, and appears to have reined in the hot-headed tendencies of his early Leeds career. That said, Berardi's aggression is a major asset in this division, and of all Cellino's signings - not including Sol Bamba who arrived in the January transfer window when Cellino was suspended - the 26-year-old appears to be the most suited to football in this country.

The adaptable defender - who started his career in Italy at Brescia - has found further favour with fans in the past seven days by making himself available for first-team duty despite carrying an injury. Dispute and ill-feeling still surrounds the mysterious declarations of six players who withdrew from the squad with injury on the eve of last weekend's trip to Charlton Athletic. All six - bar loanee Edgar Cani - were Cellino signings last summer, and while many would put Berardi in that same bracket, it was telling that he travelled while carrying a knock that Redfearn had referred to in his press conference that week, ie. it was a genuine injury he appeared to be fully aware of.  

Berardi took his place on the sub's bench in the 2-1 defeat at Charlton, and didn't appear, but simply by making himself available he stands apart in many fans' eyes as the kind of professional they wish to see at the club. Furthermore, Redfearn spoke at this weeks' press conference, that Berardi's attitude was appreciated by his teammates.

Now it remains to be seen whether Berardi can cement himself a place in the team in his preferred position of right-back. Scott Wootton has occupied that position for much of the last three months but it may be more suited to Berardi long term. In addition, youngster Charlie Taylor has designs on the left-back berth for next season.

Either way, Berardi has a battle on his hands, and Leeds fans may just be behind him at last.

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