Euro 2020 Special

Javi Gracia Named as New Leeds Manager: Spaniard Tasked With Avoiding Relegation

Former Watford boss Javi Gracia has been named as the new manager of Leeds United, replacing Jesse Marsch who was sacked after a poor run of results on February 6th.

Under-21 boss Michael Skubala had been in temporary charge of the club, whilst the search for Marsch’s replacement was conducted with several candidates for the job passing up the opportunity.

Gracia will have little time to get his feet under the table at Elland Road. The club are currently 19th in the Premier League table, just a single point separating them from bottom-side Southampton.

Premier League survival must be a priority for the South Yorkshire side and they need to start picking up points fast.


Javi Gracia

Now 52, Gracia had a long playing career as a defencive midfielder, with a number of Spanish teams, including Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad and Villareal.

Moving into coaching, he had a variety of roles, again primarily in Spanish football with his first foray overseas being when he was appointed head coach of Russian side Rubin Kazan.

In 2018, he was appointed manager of Watford and steered them to Premier League survival and an FA Cup Final, only for them to be thrashed 6 – 0 by Manchester City at Wembley. He was sacked a few weeks into the next season after the club made a poor start to the campaign.

Since then, he had spells with Valencia and in Qatari football with Al-Sadd.


He was not first choice

Gracia was not first choice for the job. The preferred candidate was Andoni Iraola,who is currently in charge of Rayo Vallecano. That move was blocked though by the Spanish club who refused to release him from his contract.

Feyenoord boss Arne Slot was ruled out of contention as he preferred to stay with the Eredivisie side, whilst Carlos Corberan chose to sign a new contract at West Bromwich Albion.


Time is of the essence

Marsh was appointed almost a year ago to replace Marcelo Bielsa, the man who is revered by many Leeds fans for finally ending their long exile from the Premier League.

In their first season back up, their high intensity pressing game had won many admirers. But by the second season, other clubs had clubs had sussed Leeds out, and Bielsa was sacked with the club 17th in the table.

Marsch was appointed with the remit of keeping the club up, which he managed, but the side were again struggling and a poor run of results cost him his job.

The American was heavily linked with the vacant job at Southampton, but talks broke through at the last minute because of issues of length of contract.

Skubala’s first match in temporary charge saw them gain a creditable draw away at Old Trafford at Manchester United, but they were beaten at home in the reverse fixture a few days later.

They then lost to fellow relegation candidates Everton at the weekend, failing to register a single shot on target all match.

Leeds have won just four games in the Premier League all season, their last victory coming against Bournemouth in November.


Pragmatism may be the key to survival

Both Bielsa and Marsch were proponents of pressing and attacking football. Whilst this may be attractive to watch, it also leaves side’s vulnerable at the back.

Leeds have actually scored five more goals than Chelsea this season, but their Achilles’ heel has been at the other end. They have already conceded 39, and clean sheets have been at a premium.

Gracia may be forced to adopt a more defencive style with an emphasis on hard work and discipline.

It might not be the type of football that some of the Leeds’ faithful have become used to in recent years, but needs must give their situation.

The club will be painfully aware of the financial consequences of dropping out of the Premier League, not least because the proposed takeover by the club of the investment arm of the NFL team the San Francisco 49ers is dependent on them continuing to play top-flight English football.

Gracia’s first game in charge is a classic relegation six-pointer, as Leeds host bottom club Southampton at Elland Road on Saturday.




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