Leeds United appoint Javi Gracia and hope he take charge for Southampton game

Leeds United appoint Javi Gracia and hope he take charge for Southampton game - Aaron Chown/PA
Leeds United appoint Javi Gracia and hope he take charge for Southampton game - Aaron Chown/PA

Leeds United have appointed Javi Gracia as their new manager and want him in place in time for Saturday’s crucial relegation encounter with Southampton.

Leeds announced Gracia's arrival on Tuesday, in the wake of a weekend defeat at Everton that left the Yorkshire club in the bottom three of the Premier League after a run of 10 games without a victory. His contract is described by Leeds as "flexible".

That form cost Jesse Marsch his job and Saturday brought with it the realisation from senior management that caretaker manager Michael Skubala was not the man to arrest their slide, despite a superb debut game in which Leeds drew 2-2 at Manchester United earlier this month.

Gracia, whose last job was with Qatari side Al Sadd, was manager of Watford for 18 months from 2018-19 and twice kept them in the Premier League. He also led them to the 2019 FA Cup Final where they lost 6-0 to Manchester City.

Despite his itinerant managerial career, Gracia has been identified as the man to fight a successful relegation battle, after a pursuit of Rafa Benitez ended unsuccessfully last week with the Spaniard eyeing other jobs.

Director Victor Orta and managing director Angus Kinnear interviewed Gracia, 52, before the defeat at Goodison and that prompted them to speed up the process of appointing Marsch’s permanent successor.

Gracia, who managed Valencia after leaving Vicarage Road, will be handed a contract until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent position if he keeps Leeds up.

And his appointment will end a frustrating search for a club whose move for Rayo Vallecano’s Andoni Iraola was blocked before Carlos Corberan withdrew from contention by remaining with West Brom.

Feyenoord’s Arne Slot also rejected their interest and Leeds changed their mind over a move for Alfred Schreuder of Ajax after adverse reaction from supporters.

Leeds have only won four games all season, and none since early November, well before the World Cup break, and their only two goals in their last five games came in the battling draw at Old Trafford in Skubala’s first game in charge.

It is understood that former under-21 coach Skubala will remain with the first team to assist Gracia.

After the Goodison defeat, Skubala insisted his squad was strong enough to avoid relegation and claimed he was happy to continue in charge for the game with Southampton - a role he now appears unlikely to be given.

Defeat to Southampton, themselves without a permanent manager, at Elland Road would see the south coast club move above Leeds and leave the hosts at the bottom of the Premier League.