Javi Gracia 'An easy decision to accept Leeds United challenge'

Former Watford manager Javi Gracia is seen prior to the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Watford FC at St. James Park on August 31, 2019 in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom.

Javi Gracia has acknowledged that it was an “easy” decision to accept the Leeds United managerial vacancy and he is relishing the “challenge” of attempting to steer the club away from the Premier League relegation zone.

The 52-year-old was appointed the Whites’ new permanent manager on Tuesday, penning a “flexible contract”, just over two weeks after the dismissal of Jesse Marsch.

Leeds have since confirmed that Gracia has been granted a work visa and will take charge of his first game on Saturday at home against Premier League basement club Southampton, who have confirmed the appointment of Ruben Selles as their new manager until the end of the season.

Zigor Aranalde, Mikel Antia and Juan Jose Solla have also been confirmed are three new additions to Gracia’s backroom staff, while Michael Skubala – who was in temporary charge of Leeds’ last three matches – will continue with the first-team setup, with Paco Gallardo replacing him as the club’s Under-21s coach.

Speaking to the press for the first time since finding out he will be in the dugout for Saturday’s game, Gracia said: “I’ve had two or three hours sleep. I had a meeting with the club on Sunday. It was easy after my conversation with the board to decide I want to be here and accept the challenge.

“During the week we’ve been preparing. We’re really prepared for the game which is the most important thing. We’ve been keeping an eye on the time and the team. Preparing many things. We are well prepared and the players know perfectly well what we’re going to do tomorrow.

“Yesterday, I was working in the club and had a warm welcome. I was really excited. It’s things like this that make the difference. The atmosphere in the club is very good and I only want to give them my best to try and give us good results.”

Asked about the flexible contract he has signed with Leeds, Gracia said: “You know our situation. You can stay one game or stay your life. When I accepted the challenge it was because I want to stay here and achieve the objective.

“I don’t want to be here to stay because I have a contract. I don’t want the club to have a coach they don’t want. It’s my goal to finish the season with the objective.”

Indeed, that objective for Leeds is survival in the Premier League, something that Gracia has previously experienced during a spell in charge of Watford – steering the Hornets to safety in the second half of the 2017-18 campaign.

Gracia has admitted that he had doubts over whether he would manage again in the Premier League, but he is now “excited” by the opportunity to take charge of Leeds and has insisted that the club is focused fully on climbing away from danger in the remaining 15 games of the season.

“When I finished at Watford, I didn’t know if I’d have another experience in the Premier League,” said the Spaniard. “I had the chance in Spain with Valencia, then to Qatar (with Al-Sadd) with different experiences of life and working.

“When this experience [to join Leeds] appeared I didn’t have any doubt. It was what I was waiting for. I was waiting for something in the Premier League and it’s something I’m excited for.”

Gracia added: “I think everybody knows the potential of this squad, the energy the passion they have to play. On my first day they showed me. In this moment, they need a good moment to change the dynamic. The rest of the things they’re doing really well.

“The club is focused on the target. It’s clear and this helps us work in one directions. When I spoke with them, they were clear we have to achieve the objective [of survival]. I was looking for an opportunity and a chance like this one.

“From training today, I felt they were really focused on the game. That’s the feeling I’ve had from my first day, the players are involved and they want to improve the situation.”

Leeds, who are bidding to end a 10-game winless league run, can be optimistic of claiming a positive result against Southampton on Saturday as they have only lost one of their last 14 meetings against the Saints.

The Whites currently sit 19th in the Premier League table, one point above Southampton and two points adrift of safety, and a win at Elland Road on Saturday could be enough to see either club climb out of the drop zone if other results were to go their way.

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