Leeds United’s Championship promotion rivals suffer blow as £27m signing departs

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Leeds United’s possible promotion rivals Watford have lost one of their key men ahead of the 2023-24 Championship season

Star Watford forward Ismaïla Sarr has completed a move to Ligue 1 club Olympique de Marseille for an undisclosed fee, in a blow to Leeds United’s possible promotion rivals.

The Hornets are among the sides being tipped to challenge for promotion next term. They have appointed ex-Barnsley and West Brom boss Valérien Ismaël as their new manager after the departure of Chris Wilder.

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Leeds face Watford at Elland Road on September 23, in their eighth game of the 2023-24 Championship campaign. Sarr scored 34 goals in 131 appearances for the Hornets after joining from Rennes for a club record £27million fee in August 2019.

He netted 10 goals in 39 fixtures last term for the second-tier outfit. The Senegal international has been the persistent subject of transfer interest over the past few seasons and left Watford with just one year remaining on his deal at Vicarage Road.

A club statement confirmed: “Forward Ismaïla Sarr has completed a permanent transfer to French side Olympique de Marseille for an undisclosed fee, Watford FC confirms. The 25-year-old departs after a four-year spell in Hertfordshire, which saw him score 34 goals in 131 appearances and contribute several standout moments that will live long in Watford folklore.

“Having joined the Hornets from Marseille’s Ligue 1 rivals Stade Rennais on deadline day in August 2019 - for a record fee - Sarr scored six times during his debut season in England, including a brace in the memorable 3-0 win against runaway champions Liverpool. He won the club’s Player of the Season award for 2020/21, after scoring 13 goals to spearhead promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, before netting five times in 22 top-flight games the following campaign.

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“Sarr - who helped Senegal claim the Africa Cup of Nations title while a Watford player, in February 2022 - featured 39 times in the Sky Bet Championship last term, netting on 10 occasions. A home clash against Swansea City in October 2022 would see him reach the 100-match milestone for the Golden Boys, while his impressive long-range strike against West Bromwich Albion two months earlier would go on to be crowned the EFL Goal of the Season. Thanks for the memories Isma, and good luck for the future!”

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