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Joel Ekstrand on his emotional Watford FC exit

Departing defender Joel Ekstrand has thanked Watford fans for their unwavering support during his four years after it was officially confirmed today he is leaving the club on a free transfer at the end of the month.

Ekstrand is already on his holidays, doing a spot of travelling, but he knew this day was coming as talks broke down over a new deal in February. As we exclusively revealed, the defender apparently wanted salary parity with the other senior defenders in the Premier League squad while Watford offered a more performance-related deal because of Ekstrand’s wretched luck with injury.

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The Sweden international damaged his anterior cruciate ligament, his meniscus and fractured a bone in his left knee in a 1-0 defeat against Ipswich Town last March. Despite five run-outs for the under-21s this year, a hamstring injury in the Herts Senior Challenge Cup game against Boreham Wood ruined his chances of making another first-team appearance. He leaves on June 30 having made a century of appearances for the club. Reading has been mentioned to us as a possible destination for the 27-year-old.

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First with the news: our exclusive story in February

“To all the fans that believed in me and supported me, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he told the club website. “I’ve had four years at the club and the fans have always made me feel appreciated.  I have some amazing memories from my time at Watford and some big highlights, like the Leicester semi-final at home during my first year, which was unbelievable, and then of course the promotion last season. I’m sad to be leaving in this manner, without having played any games for a while, but I hope some of you remember that I gave my all for the club, and I hope to see you again some day.”

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Ekstrand travelled with the squad for the FA Cup quarter-final win at Arsenal, and captain Troy Deeney made sure the former Udinese defender led the players out for the warm-up. He was not included in a squad for the rest of the season. Quique Sanchez Flores felt the dead rubber against West Ham United, and Andy Carroll, came too soon in his recovery.

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One of the initial influx of players to join following the Pozzo family takeover, Ekstrand says he leaves with a heavy heart.

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Picture by Sean Hinks

“I would say I felt at home almost directly after moving to Watford,” he said. “The English mentality and culture is very similar to Swedish and when I went to Italy I felt a little lost, so moving to England was like moving back home. I will miss a lot of people at the club – I can’t say all the names because I will surely miss some – but there are many people at the club and players that I will keep good contact with in the coming future.”

Click HERE to read our in-depth exclusive interview with Ekstrand on the pain he experienced when he damaged his knee against Ipswich Town.