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Defender Joel Ekstrand admits he feels more at home at Watford than at Udinese
Joel Ekstrand feels “more at home” at Watford than he did at Udinese but has stressed there is still more to come.
Ekstrand may be just 23 but he is now playing in his third country after leaving his homeland of Sweden for Udinese almost two years ago.
The centre-back is more experienced than many of the Golden Boys’ summer arrivals. He played for Helsingborg 85 times and was then part of the Udinese squad for the majority of last season, making 19 appearances, which included two starts against the club he supports, Arsenal, in their Champions League qualifiers.
Ekstrand was not content sitting on the bench for much of another season though, and told Udinese he wanted to play more regularly.
When asked whether his decision to leave Zebrette was his or the club’s, he replied: “I think it was a little bit of both. I said that I didn’t want to stay because I wanted more game time and also they agreed, so it was from both sides.”
Ekstrand described Watford as his “first option” but confirmed there were other clubs interested. When those potential moves fell away, Ekstrand had no hesitation in joining the Hornets.
“My first reaction was that I love English football and the Premier League – as a little kid I supported Arsenal,” he continued.
“When there was the possibility for me to come here, I was happy and I wanted to come.”
A host of Watford’s summer signings are having to learn English from scratch which means Ekstrand, who speaks Swedish, English and Italian, is not only the Hornets’ new centre back, but one of their most valuable assets off the field.
Interviews, finding houses and even simple things like getting sim cards for their phones; Ekstrand has been happy to act as translator for several of his friends from Udinese.
As he points out, it was the same for him when he moved to Udine.
It is often said that Swedish football and its people are similar to England – a statement Ekstrand agrees with.
“Things here are pretty much the same as in Sweden,” he said. “English people have the same mentality, so I have settled in, I am enjoying it and I like it here very much.
“It is very different to Italy. I think I am more at home here than in Italy, although I did like it a lot in Italy. It just took a little longer to learn everything.
"They play in a certain way, the language was very hard at the beginning, but it is good and bad in different ways.”
He continued: “The tempo is the most different thing. In Italy it is a bit slower, but I think the players are smarter so if you make a little mistake they see it and take advantage.
“Here it’s a higher tempo, more back and forward – still with quality but more open games.
“In Sweden it is more closed. It is very structured. I think those are the main differences.”
Ekstrand had to be patient following his arrival in Hertfordshire and did not make his debut until November 6.
The centre-half has now started the last seven matches and, despite the odd mistake which has led to goals which ultimately didn’t affect the result, he has impressed.
The defender, who has been joined in England by his girlfriend, said: “I am enjoying it a lot; I like everything; the training ground, the local area and the fact it is close to London. Everything is very professional. The staff and manager are great, so I am really enjoying it.
“I knew when I came here that I had to prove myself to play, and then I had a little bit of illness and a little injury,” he continued. “It was difficult, but I knew when I had my chance I would try to take it.
“I think I have a bit more to come. I played some games last year, but not regularly and I think I have more to give. I am trying my best and the confidence comes when you play a lot of games and I am beginning to play now. I still have more to give though for sure.”
Watford are in advanced talks about signing Daniel Pudil, Almen Abdi, Fernando Forestieri and Matej Vydra permanently in January but those are the only four at the moment.
Ekstrand confirmed talks over a permanent move have not started and when asked what he would consider to be his ideal season, he replied: “I just want to continue playing like I have been and improve myself. I try to do my best for the team all the time. I just want to be playing every game, stay fit and do my best for the team every time I play.”