Jordan Botaka became Leeds United’s eighth and final summer signing when he joined the club from Excelsior on a two-year deal last week. Here, football journalist Peter McVitie - an expert on the Dutch game and a writer for BeNeFoot.net - gives the YEP the lowdown on the little-known Congo international.
Botaka was largely unheard of in Leeds before his transfer to Elland Road. How surprising was it to learn that Leeds United were interested in signing him?
PM: The interest was quite surprising given that he is so young and has only played two full seasons of first-team football - with one of those coming in the second tier of Dutch football.
The indication from sources at Leeds was that the deal to sign Botaka was worth around £1m to Excelsior. Have Excelsior commented on the size of the transfer fee?
PM: No fee has been announced but when chief executive Ferry de Haan was asked about the €£1.5million transfer - which had been reported - he laughed and said Botaka was sold for much less than that.
Leeds also showed a serious interest in NEC’s Anthony Limbombe and saw an offer for him rejected. Have they signed a better player in Botaka?
PM: They’ve certainly signed a more established player. Limbombe is a very thrilling and somewhat similar player to Botaka but the latter is a year older, more developed and has already shown what he can do in the Dutch top flight. Limbombe featured for Genk in the Belgian league but never established himself as a first-team player until he moved to NEC.
As Botaka was available for a smaller price than Limbombe - who is pivotal to a NEC team trying to remain in the Eredivisie and who’ve already lost many key players - it’s a good deal for Leeds.
Botaka joined Excelsior from Club Brugge two years ago. What was your impression of him when he first signed and how much has he improved in the last two seasons?
PM: We had no idea what to expect from him because he hadn’t played much first-team football during his time in Belgium or his loan period in Portugal (with Belenenses).
When he joined Excelsior, they were in the second tier and it took him no time to establish himself in the first team. When Marinus Dijkhuizen was brought in as coach in January 2014, he turned Excelsior into a more effective attacking team and Botaka was critical in that, scoring seven goals in the second half of the season to help them reach the playoffs. He finished the campaign with 10 league goals and had a couple of assists in one of their play-offs to help the club get promoted.
What was so interesting about Excelsior in 2014-15 was that the core of players who brought them up remained in the team. They just built on that. Botaka was a pivotal part of the team. Starting generally on the right wing, he often switched to the left and operated as a direct threat on goal.
Last season he was more of a creator than a goalscorer – he found the net once with a backheel – and showed he had good balance to his game by drifting inside when Excelsior attacked from deep and staying out wide to create space when the opposition needed stretched.
He has taken to his first spell of first-team football very well and developed significantly throughout - though he was clearly a talented player from the beginning.
Leeds see Botaka as a quick, skilful winger but how would you describe him? What are his strengths and what are his weaknesses?
PM: Botaka is a flashy, skilful winger with lovely close control and immense pace. He plays with his head up and blends his individual ability well with his ability to play for the team.
It could be said that his main weakness is one aspect that makes him so exciting – he likes to take risks with his dribbles which sees him give the ball away quite a bit. It makes him a thrilling player to watch but might irritate his coach.
Was he a player who carried respect in Excelsior’s dressing room? What is his attitude like and what is his reputation in Dutch football?
PM: Botaka has a good reputation as a talented young footballer and there is something very admirable in the way he has risen up through a difficult and unsteady life to finally start making his mark in a career which was also tough from the beginning. As an infant, he and his family had to flee his homeland in DR Congo because of war and they jumped from asylum centre to asylum centre for five years before they finally settled.
He always wanted to be a football player and says his father was extremely supportive in helping him realise his dream. But he went through several youth teams and failed trials before he was finally given a chance.
At Club Brugge he wasn’t able to get his breakthrough and it seemed difficult for him despite his raw ability. But he has really taken advantage of the chance he received, worked very hard to get to where he is and wants to honour his late father by fulfilling his potential. It’s hard not to admire someone and hope for the best when they have been so driven to make their dream a reality, despite the hardships.
They say that Botaka is nicknamed ‘The Wizard’. Was this a nickname given to him by Excelsior’s fans?
PM: This is an interesting story, actually. About a year ago someone decided to make a video compilation of Botaka’s personal highlights throughout his first year at Excelsior. The maker of the video decided to put ‘The Wizard’ in the title of it. Then about a year later he attracted interest from Leeds United and some people in the media in England had never heard of Botaka before. They Googled him, saw that video title, assumed it was his established nickname and decided to refer to him as ‘The Wizard’. (So no, he was never called that.)
How disappointed are Excelsior and their supporters to be losing Botaka? Do they see his transfer as a big loss?
PM: He was an important player for an Excelsior team which is desperate to stay in the Eredivisie again this term. They have changed their style slightly and lost their head coach Marinus Dijkhuizen and Botaka was a key part of the squad so it’s a bit of a blow for the Rotterdam team.
This is Botaka’s first opportunity in English football. How do you think he will cope in the Championship?
PM: I think he will do well once he adapts to the physical aspect of the game. I don’t think he’ll get as much time on the ball as he’s used to but he has the ability to succeed for Leeds and he’s still developing as a player. There’s more to come from Botaka. Overall I think it’s a good move for him and Leeds United.