Watford and Joel Ekstrand are deadlocked in their negotiations over a new contract, we can reveal.
Watford opened talks with the 27-year-old defender last month and the parties are yet to reach an agreement on extending the deal which expires in the summer. Ekstrand rejected the club’s offer, which we understand was significantly incentivised and performance related. The prudent club are reluctant to put him just yet on a par with the club’s other senior defenders, especially as he is yet to play a full 90 minutes since recovering from a serious knee injury. The Sweden international has only just returned to training following a hamstring injury and is yet to established himself as a Premier League player.
The club showed their faith in the defender, who is big mates with Almen Abdi, by naming him in the revised Premier League squad earlier this month despite him not playing a first-team game in nearly a year.
“He is a very good player,” said Quique Sanchez Flores yesterday morning. “He is the kind of player I like, but it does not depend just on me. He’s out of contract, so it’s the decision of the club and the player.”
Ekstrand knows he can leave on a Bosman in the summer and can negotiate a significant signing on fee and / or wages as another club will be picking up an international defender for free. It has been reported that Malaga and Sampdoria are interested in his services.
“Yes, my contract goes out in the summer but I don’t focus on that,” he told us exclusively in October. “I have my reputation. They [the club] know what I can do and what I can’t. I need to prove my fitness to even think about [a new contract].”
Watford have a reputation for tying their senior players to long-term deals, so it protects their investment, and do not tend to allow players to leave for nothing. However, they know a second season as a Premier League club means they can have the pick of the available centre-halves in the summer. They, for example, persuaded Miguel Britos to leave Napoli, picking him up for nothing in the summer, when they were an unknown quantity as a Premier League force.
Interestingly, Raul Albiol, the Spain defender who Sanchez Flores worked with at Valencia and who the head coach rang to check on Britos, has less than 18 months on his deal at Napoli.
“A lot of good players want to come to Watford next year,” the head coach told us yesterday.