Monday, March 27, 2023

Gracia Next Man In At Elland Road?

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Following the sacking of Jesse Marsch on 6th February, the subject of who will replace the US Coach in the Leeds United hot seat has never been far from the latest football news headlines. In addition to assessing the best betting offers currently available, punters have been poring over the latest odds for the vacant post.

Deciding who to back has certainly been no easy task, with the odds toing and froing around a host of contenders. Rayo Vallecano’s Andoni Iraola and Arne Slot of Feyenoord were all the rage at one stage, but it seems they have now dropped out of contention.

Another name generating increasing hype on the rumour mill was that of ex-Liverpool and Newcastle United coach Rafa Benitez. Still based in England and consistently declaring an interest in a return to the Premier League, the Spaniard seems an obvious fit – despite his near-disastrous spell at Everton.

However, as Leeds United head into their third week without a full-time coach, a new name has emerged as a frontrunner for the position – that of ex-Watford coach Javi Gracia. With the Spaniard now being backed to the exclusion of all others – and reportedly already in talks with the club – here we take a look at what Leeds United fans can expect from the 52-year-old.

Javi Gracia – Managerial Profile

A man on his travels

Following a 15-year playing career exclusively based in his homeland, Gracia’s spent his formative managerial years working predominantly in the youth set-up at Villarreal. His first senior roles then came at the lower league Spanish clubs of Pontevedra CF and Cádiz CF.

Having spread his wings to gain further experience in Greece with Olympiacos Volou and Kerkyra, Gracia then returned to Spain with UD Almeria. And it was in Andalusia where his first significant coaching success came, as he triumphantly led the club back to the top-flight – seeing his stock rise considerably.

A big move to Osasuna failed to go to plan, with a win rate of just 25.6% seeing Gracia depart for pastures new once more – this time to the sunshine island of Malaga. Rock solid ninth and eighth place finishes with Los Albicelestes did much to restore Gracia’s reputation – attracting the attention of Russian outfit Rubin Kazan.

However, his time in Russia was to prove short-lived, lasting the duration of the 2016/17 season, but no longer.

The Premier League comes calling

Given that somewhat patchy overall record, Gracia was a surprise choice when granted the keys to Vicarage Road on 21st January 2018. It is, however, his time at Watford which will be deemed of most significance to the Elland Road faithful. So how did he fair?

Taken as a whole, Gracia’s time in charge of the Hornets would likely be viewed as a success by most fans. Taking over in January of 2018 with the club in a spot of trouble, Gracia steered the side to a respectable 14th-place finish. Better was to follow in 2018/19 when the club finished in 11th spot. Signs of progress, but a slow start during the following campaign was to prove his undoing.

There were many at the time who viewed his sacking as slightly harsh, given that it came only one month into the season. However, what goes around comes around, and Gracia may be about to benefit from another dismissal which many viewed as unjust, with Jesse Marsch having done a largely excellent job at Leeds United.

Things haven’t gone particularly well for Leeds since the departure of Marsch, with the club picking up just 1 point from a possible nine since he left – slumping to second bottom of the table and two points adrift of safety. That position likely makes Gracia’s track record of achieving middle-of-the-pack finishing positions particularly attractive to the Leeds board – a factor which may ultimately see him land the job.

Others still in the hunt

As has been proven with Andoni Iraola and Arne Slot, the post isn’t filled until someone actually signs on the dotted line. Should Gracia fail to do so, in addition to Rafa Benitez, the following names have been linked with the vacancy.

  • Michael Skubala: The man currently in temporary charge. An excellent point at Old Trafford was a good start, but having subsequently lost to the Red Devils and relegation rivals Everton, he may not have done enough.
  • Nuno Espirito Santo: Things didn’t work out for Nuno at Spurs, but he was a hugely popular figure at Molineux during his time in charge at Wolves and would bring valuable Premier League experience.
  • Steven Gerrard: A big hit at Rangers, the Liverpool legend didn’t fare so well at Villa. Gerrard remains a highly rated up-and-coming coach nonetheless, but does he have the managerial know-how for a relegation scrap?
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