Exclusive: Javi Gracia paradox facing Leeds Utd as Ben Jacobs reveals plans for major summer appointment
Leeds United find themselves in a period of major flux following the appointment of Javi Gracia – and he could find himself a victim of his own success if he manages to keep the Whites in the Premier League, Ben Jacobs has told TEAMtalk.
The Whites have turned to the former Watford manager as a successor to Jesse Marsch. The American was sent packing earlier this month after failing to inspire Leeds from the lower reaches of the table. Indeed, they had just four wins under their belts from their 20 games played when the axe fell.
But what followed was a long-drawn out process to find Marsch’s successor.
Indeed, Leeds spoke with a number of potential candidates to take charge at Elland Road. And Carlos Corberan, Andoni Iraola and Arne Slot were among the candidates Leeds failed to attract.
Of the trio, it was perhaps the failure to land Iraola that hurt the most. A disciple of beloved former manager Marcelo Bielsa, the Spaniard has Rayo Vallecano flying high in LaLiga.
However, the 40-year-old – while severely-attracted by the role – did not want to leave Vallecano mid season and amid issues over his exit clause.
Slot, meanwhile, has Feyenoord on pole position to win the Eredivisie title and he was quick to shoot down Leeds’ approach.
As it went, Leeds ultimately settled on Gracia, having previously spoken with him at the start of their process.
The 52-year-old former Valencia and Malaga coach has now agreed a deal at Leeds until the end of the season. That arrangement will then be reviewed depending on his success and on what division Leeds find themselves in.
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Difficult situation faced Leeds in manager hunt
The deal for Gracia, though, remains subject to a work permit. He currently falls short due to a change in UK laws following Brexit. As a result, the race is on to get him in the dug out for Saturday’s clash against Southampton.
That match is vital to Leeds’ survival push. Having failed to win since November 5, the importance of taking all three points on Saturday cannot be stressed enough.
Gracia too – should he be in charge – will also be looking to make an instant impact.
However, the jury remains out on whether he will still be Leeds gaffer come next season.
Much of that will depend on what division Leeds find themselves in.
Perversely, he could find that if steers Leeds to safety, that may ultimately cost him his job.
Shedding light on the situation, CBS journalist Jacobs told TEAMtalk: “What’s been difficult for Leeds is that they had a lot of candidates that they either couldn’t get. That’s because they either didn’t want to come, or they couldn’t get them because, while they were appealed by the project, they didn’t want to join right now.
“You can understand why because mid-season at Leeds, you could stay up and be a hero. But you could also get relegated into the Championship!
“Not all the managers want to move at this stage of the season. The transfer window is shot and there’s no real time to bed in because of the World Cup [and frequency of games].
“What’s interesting about Gracia is just whether or not this flexible contract is going to prove to be for short term. And we should certainly note his appointment in the context of all of the other candidates that Leeds tried for.
Ben Jacobs explains Javi Gracia dilemma for Leeds
“They wanted Andoni Iraola but Rayo Vallecano blocked that move. They looked at Arne Slot, who didn’t want the job.
“Alfred Schroeder was linked as well who was formerly at Ajax. I don’t think the Leeds fan base were particularly enamored towards his kind of appointment.”
“So I think that it’s going to be interesting to see where this leads, even though they’ve not called Gracia an ‘interim’. See this is a bit of a ‘try-before-you buy’ style scenario, whereby he comes in without an interim title.
“But let’s see what happens at the end of the season. If he keeps Leeds United up, then he can be in pole position to potentially renegotiate and stay in the long term.
“But the back of Leeds’ minds I think will be all of these other candidates. Can they, for example, still get Iraola at the end of the season? Or is there somebody else in the market that might consider Leeds United in the long run?
“If they secure their Premier League status – and therein lies the paradox – because if Leeds stay up, then Gracia you know, shouldn’t really be replaced. Surely because he’ll have done his job. But I do think that leads to Leeds keeping their options open.”
Several moving factors at Leeds United
Jacobs added: “That is, ultimately, why the contract is flexible, because they don’t yet know what’s going to happen with their league status.
“And we also have to bear in mind that if everything still goes according to plan, 49ers Enterprises will be coming in and taking full ownership of Leeds United.
“And as the full owner of Leeds United, should that progress, they will also want their say on who is in charge of Leeds United, both now and in the long run.
“So there’s kind of a lot of moving parts at Leeds, there’s a new manager, there’s all the names that Leeds wanted before that new manager. There’s the flexible contract situation. There’s Leeds’ Premier League status being on the line and also their ownership status.
“They have all kinds of question marks over them. And I’m sure that we will get more clarity on it all come the end of the season, when it’s apparent whether or not Leeds can keep themselves in the Premier League.”
After Southampton, Leeds then travel to face Fulham in the FA Cup fifth round on Tuesday before traveling to Chelsea on Saturday week.
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