EXCLUSIVE: Victor Orta on loving Leeds, transfer success and Bielsa
EXCLUSIVE: Victor Orta on loving Leeds, transfer success and Bielsa
Victor Orta has experienced football from almost every angle. His journey from ordinary fan to technical director has taken him across Europe, with spells as a journalist, agent, coach and head of recruitment in between.
But nothing could have prepared him for his journey at Leeds United. Orta joined the Whites in 2017 after leaving Teesside outfit Middlesbrough – and this relationship quickly became love at first sight.
“I’ve fallen in love with Leeds,” he tells OneFootball. “I knew their history and tradition from the outside, but without being here you can never truly understand the magnitude of this club.
“I feel very proud to have worked with some big clubs in the past.
“For example Sevilla who completely changed my career, and then Real Valladolid, Elche, Zenit – but I’ve fallen in love with Leeds and the passion here.
“You can feel everything you do with the fans – in a good and bad way! I receive letters of complaint every week, even now, but I love that level of determination to improve.”
In four-and-a-half years as director of football, Orta has overseen significant transition at Elland Road.
There have been three managers, one mid-table finish, one agonising play-off defeat, one Championship title and most recently, a pandemic-hit Premier League season without fans present.
But unlike West Brom and Fulham who were also promoted last season, Leeds avoided relegation with ease after an impressive first season back in the top flight, finishing ninth after winning an incredible 18 games.
“This was our goal at the start of the season and when you achieve that goal – you should be happy,” the Spaniard explained. “Consistency is the most difficult thing to achieve in football and we’ve had two brilliant seasons in a row.
“When coming into the Premier League, the numbers can be scary when you look at how often promoted teams face relegation again. But we’ve tried to build a foundation around sustainability, which has helped us reach new levels.
“More importantly we’ve succeeded with our own style, with hard work and graft.”
Interestingly, Leeds – while making some notable summer investments – stuck with the core of their squad that earned them promotion in the first place.
The likes of Ilan Meslier, Luke Ayling, Kalvin Phillips, Stuart Dallas and Patrick Bamford were all ever-presents under Marcelo Bielsa last season and have been pivotal in their progress this term.
Teams in the past have instead opted for heavy investment to no avail, which Orta explains was not an option for the club.
“My first experience in England with the promotion of Middlesbrough gave me a lot of lessons.
“We knew that this group was strong enough to play Premier League football. I know many people didn’t believe that, but now after one year they should be changing their judgement.
“Those names that you mentioned – we knew that they were the core of our side. Then we wanted to make sure that if we brought anybody in, they would only bring in more quality.
“I feel really proud and happy about that. We are so happy that these guys could change some opinions and prove they are not just ‘average Championship players’.
Speaking of Championship players, Bamford was labelled just that after spending time with MK Dons, Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough and others after being farmed out on loan from Chelsea.
And despite finishing as top scorer during their Championship-winning campaign, doubts remained over his ability to lead the side against Premier League opposition.
Those doubts have since been squashed emphatically. The 27-year-old frontman netted 17 goals and assisted a further seven in 38 appearances, with only seven players in the whole league contributing to more goals.
“You know what? I feel really upset,” Orta jokes. “Because in the past, if something bad happened the blame would be 50% Victor Orta and 50% Patrick Bamford – but now I’m taking 100%!
“He deserves this moment because when you work hard through difficult moments, taking criticism and judgements along the way it’s not easy, but I always felt that he believed in his talent.
“I feel really happy for him, for his family, for his environment, and now he can truly enjoy the good moments knowing he has beaten some difficult ones.”
And while the core of their side remained, money was spent on big major signings that have all made an impact in their own way.
“First of all, we believe in a methodology and a style of football that makes our work in the scouting department much easier.
“I prefer my team to be watching 200 players instead of 2000. I think in terms of what we did last summer – we are extremely happy.
“We consider ourselves lucky because we didn’t just sign talented players, we signed great guys, amazing people for the dressing room who arrived and respected the traditions of this club.”
Raphinha – who arrived late in the transfer window from Rennes – has glittered most during his first season in English football.
The Brazilian has scored six goals and assisted nine in 28 appearances, with his technique, skill and devastating left foot getting fans watching at home out of their seats.
“Raphinha is a special case,” Orta beamed. “He has been brilliant from the moment he touched this club.
“But it wasn’t easy because he arrived in the last few days of the transfer window, really nervous and honestly, he didn’t have a lot of time to decide.”
“We saw an opportunity late on and gambled – just like he did with us – and hopefully this is the beginning of something beautiful.
“Rodrigo Moreno – you can imagine the market for him in Spain, where he has played his whole life. To come to England is a big change but he believed in our project.
“There were some hard moments which is normal. But when you watch him, his quality is clear – this is the type of player you want at your club.
“I also want to highlight Robin Koch and Diego Llorente, who we are also really happy with and I’m sure will be great again next season, with a smoother adaptation period and injuries behind them.”
But it’s impossible to speak about Leeds without mentioning Marcelo Bielsa.
The legendary coach – nicknamed ‘El Loco’ for his eccentric and unpredictable personality – has managed some iconic sides during his career spanning upwards of 40 years.
Bielsa has also inspired some of the world’s best coaches, including Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola, but arrived in West Yorkshire with more questions than answers.
He left Lazio in 2017 just eight days after being appointed which lead to a major court tribunal, before his two years at Lille ended in disaster having avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth.
Yet Leeds were convinced that Marcelo was their man – and they haven’t looked back since.
“After my first year here, we wanted to invest in a coach that should shape our future and our legacy. Marcelo Bielsa has become our guide.
“His role within the club, his role outside the club, his influence on the young players, our physical performance, our tactical performance and more importantly, the culture that he creates around this club is something we are privileged to be involved with.”
“When we took the decision to pursue Marcelo – and Andrea Radrizzani can vouch for this – I received tons of messages saying ‘are you crazy’, ‘you are making a mistake’ – things like that.
“Now it’s different! I feel proud that we could create an environment for him to succeed.
“From the ticket seller, Mandy, all the way up to Patrick Bamford, our connection resembles a family, and we all share the common goal to change the history of Leeds United.”
Orta referenced togetherness throughout our 40-minute interview and having watched the manager, players and everybody in between this season, togetherness was clearly present.
This club have walked through the wilderness for 15 years but their trajectory is finally back on track. They are one of the biggest football clubs in England, after all.
And there will be no resting on laurels for Orta and his team, with the Spaniard determined to secure and build up on their top-flight status having worked so hard to get there.