Leeds United confirm Javi Gracia on 'flexible' contract as ex-Watford man joins relegation fight

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Leeds United have confirmed the appointment of former Malaga, Valencia and Watford boss Javi Gracia as Jesse Marsch’s replacement.

The Whites sacked the American two weeks ago but were unable to land one of their initial shortlisted candidates. Andoni Iraola proved impossible to lure away from Rayo Vallecano and the same was true of Feyenoord’s Arne Slot, who was not on the original shortlist. Tentative talks with Nuno Espírito Santo did not progress and although ex-Ajax head coach Alfred Schreuder arrived in Leeds to speak to the board and was spotted at Elland Road, prompting a backlash from supporters, the club elected not to appoint the Dutchman.

Last week’s plan was to allow caretaker Michael Skubala to remain in charge for the games against Everton and Southampton, having impressed with the manner in which he took to the job for the Manchester United doubler header. But a 1-0 defeat at Goodison in which Leeds failed to muster a single shot on target led to a swift abandonment of that plan.

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Talks with Gracia went well on Monday and Leeds announced his arrival on Tuesday afternoon in a statement which read: “Leeds United are delighted to announce the club have agreed terms with Javi Gracia to become men’s first team head coach, subject to obtaining a work permit. The experienced 52-year-old has agreed a flexible contract at Elland Road.

"The club hope Gracia’s first game in charge of the Whites will be Saturday’s Premier League clash against Southampton at Elland Road, subject to obtaining the necessary work permissions.”

Gracia’s Premier League experience came at Watford between January 2018 and September 2019, encompassing two midtable finishes and a run to the FA Cup final. His sacking after a poor start to the season came as a shock to Hornets fans, who felt he had previously got the best out of the squad. He has often favoured a 4-4-2 formation in the past, tasking his wingers with coming inside, and was known for creating a solid defensive base and an intense pressing system.

The 52-year-old’s managerial CV is extensive with spells in Spain’s first, second and third tiers, as well as time spent in Greece, Russia and most recently Qatar. The most notable appointments of his career, besides the Watford job, came at Malaga, where he made a name as a manager who could thwart the big two of Barcelona and Real Madrid, and Valencia, where he was appointed at a difficult, fractious time in the club’s history.

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As a player Gracia began his career with Athletic Bilbao’s reserve side and went on to represent Real Valladolid, Real Sociedad and Villarreal in LaLiga. His playing career as a defensive midfielder ended with a season at Córdoba CF in Spain’s second tier.

NEW MAN - Leeds United have appointed ex Watford and Valencia manager Javi Gracia as their boss. Pic: GettyNEW MAN - Leeds United have appointed ex Watford and Valencia manager Javi Gracia as their boss. Pic: Getty
NEW MAN - Leeds United have appointed ex Watford and Valencia manager Javi Gracia as their boss. Pic: Getty

Gracia inherits a Leeds side sitting second bottom of the Premier League ahead of an Elland Road clash with rock-bottom Southampton. Leeds have won just four league games all season and the last of those came back in November.

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