Exclusive interview with Leeds United director of football Victor Orta in full
THE Yorkshire Evening Post spoke to Leeds United director of football Victor Orta for an exclusive interview four days before the closure of the domestic transfer window. We split the interview up into three pieces and here are those pieces together, updated in full.
Victor Orta didn’t know what kind of transfer market he and Leeds United were heading into this summer.
A week into August he saw no trends and deemed the window an ‘absolute unknown’.
Two months on, with the international window closed and as the domestic deadline closed in, the market was no longer a complete stranger to the director of football, but still strange.
It was a summer in which the unexpected became expected.
A plan to bring in top Championship players gave way to the availability and affordability of in-demand talents operating in top-tier European leagues.
A move for a midfielder broke down at the last minute over a medical, for reasons the player himself and his club disputed, before he was loaned elsewhere.
And football clubs showed solidarity and understanding, not greed or desperation, when it came to setting out the payment terms of deals.
The signings of Rodrigo, Robin Koch and Diego Llorente made it an exciting window for Leeds fans, even before Raphinha’s deadline-day arrival.
So how was it for you, Señor Orta?
“It’s always difficult to evaluate a window,” he told The YEP.
“I’m not sure I like to evaluate a window. In the end you need to evaluate performance, not previous decisions. It’s difficult to know if it’s good or bad.
“But, in terms of positions, in a strange market that really reduced the capacity to attract good players, improving and adding personalities because it’s really important to keep this good environment, I am really happy with all the new signings, including the project about anticipating talent with young lads.
"I am really satisfied because, on paper, it looks like a good market.”
Orta insisted that Leeds didn’t so much abandon their plan to target the cream of the Championship as turn their attention to targets he didn’t initially expect to get.
“We always analyse all the markets,” he said.
“The availability is the most important situation most times.
"For example, with Robin Koch we knew his availability from January because he had one year left on his contract and decided he was not going to renew.
"Then he was in the market and our analysis was very close because we knew the availability.
“Other times you can be more surprised, in the case of Rodrigo, when it comes to the position of the club changing, or in the case of Diego Llorente or Raphinha, where their availability at the start of the market was ‘absolutely no’ and at the end, because of circumstances at their clubs, became ‘yes’.
"Then it’s difficult to say ‘this is our plan’.”
Orta said much of the work of a scouting department was to gain insight on players who never sign. But being prepared sharpens your reactions.
“You need to have the information to hand because, in a moment, the availability of a player appears, you feel ready,” he said.
“You can’t start analysing a player after you know he’s available, it’s impossible.
“When I was at Sevilla our goal was to be the first – the first watching this tournament, taking this information, when not all the matches were on TV and it was difficult to find a game on video or DVD, 15 years ago.
“Now with all the tools, all the video analysis, all the statistics tools, now the information is really important but not to be the first, it’s to convert this information into useful knowledge.
"This is the key in the market because in 24 hours it can change. Raphinha wasn’t available but then was, so we needed to be ready to make a decision.”
Raphinha appeared on the radar while a Vitória Guimarães player, before Marcelo Bielsa had even arrived at Elland Road, when Orta’s team became aware that the Brazilian could get an Italian passport and negate work permit difficulties.
They followed him through a good year at Sporting Lisbon and another at Rennes, but so did many others: “Our aim was to react as soon as possible because, obviously, other teams were trying to target this winger.
“His club signed a young player from Anderlect and decided to prioritise this investment. Raphinha had four or five teams to choose from after a really good season and decided on Leeds and the Premier League.”
Bielsa, with whom Orta has a constant dialogue and ‘synergy’ over transfers, believes players like Raphinha choose clubs, not managers.
This is one area where he and Orta sing different tunes: “For me he is wrong, absolutely wrong. For me one of the reasons a player chooses Leeds United is for Marcelo Bielsa.
“We try to explain to them how he can improve their level, how he can make them better, how it could put them in their next level, international level.
“We have 200 examples of him improving the performance of a player. One of the things they base the decision on is his presence.
“To be honest it helped me a lot. I can use a lot of careers he changed and it will continue."
Bielsa might make up a player’s mind, but his club still has to be willing to sell.
This summer Leeds were linked with an absurd number of players by media reports at home and abroad, a lot of which were 'clickbait' articles in Orta's estimation and many of which made him chuckle because he could identify the source of the rumour or the interest at play in whispering a name to a journalist.
Not all of the speculation was without foundation, however. Leeds did have interest in Ryan Kent and made a bid, which was rejected. Rodrigo De Paul flirted with the Whites on social media but stayed at Udinese.
“I think [Kent’s] club doesn’t want to sell him,” said Orta.
“We tried and we believe clearly Glasgow Rangers doesn’t want the player to leave. It was never their plan to put Kent in the market.
"[De Paul] was one player we analysed but, in the end, the valuation of his club was at a level that was difficult for Leeds to reach, as a newly promoted club – not just for Leeds but a lot of clubs because, in the end, nobody took him, because of the evaluation of his club, which is fair.”
Orta takes no issue with a club’s right to place a value on their asset. That, to him, is as fair as Leeds’ right not to pay it.
When his and the selling club’s valuations did come close this summer, he found a willingness to make deals happen.
“To be honest, we were realistic in a lot of situations, about salaries, keeping the plan, balancing staying in the Premier League and spending,” he said.
“I think the clubs we did business with were really good about the terms of payment. That is really key, for cash flow.
“People were intelligent to try and divide the payment terms which is really important for cash flow, the day by day.
“I don’t know if the word is solidarity but everyone was so realistic about the situation and paying for players over two years, Valencia, Real Sociedad, all the clubs, Freiburg too.
“We all understood the rules of the market. If you are going to be strict with payment terms, perhaps you don’t sell anyone.”
Overcoming a COVID-impacted market and paying what Orta felt were realistic fees and wages for players who really wanted to come to Leeds gave him great satisfaction.
His hope now is that his new signings keep Leeds in the Premier League long enough to satisfy his other craving.
“Get fans back. Please. After 16 years it’s really tough,” he said.
“In the street the first question the fans ask is how can we get back to Elland Road to enjoy the Premier League? My obsession is to stay in the Premier League and to get the fans back to enjoy it together.”
In terms of domestic targets, Orta confirmed to the YEP that Norwich City man Cantwell and Derby County youngster Sibley had been monitored.
Norwich midfielder Cantwell had been linked to a move to Elland Road for weeks, while Derby County youngster Sibley had only recently emerged publicly as a player of interest.
Leeds wanted to add a midfielder to their squad before the international transfer deadline passed, but a move for Bayern Munich's highly rated Michael Cuisance fell through.
Although Leeds and Bayern reached agreement over a deal in the region of £20m for the 21-year-old, concerns were raised at the Premier League club over his medical and he flew back to Germany, before joining Marseille on loan. Leeds moved on and signed winger Raphinha from Rennes on deadline day.
It was disappointing for Orta but the director of football was philosophical.
"It's a part of the situation," he told the YEP.
"We analyse all and at the end if things happen, no agreement. These kinds of things happen. It's part of the market. It's disappointing but it's part of the process."
When asked why no midfielder has been forthcoming, given the club were willing to part with so much money to bring Cuisance to Elland Road, Orta simply pointed to the standards Leeds have for any player joining Marcelo Bielsa's squad to rival or cover for Mateusz Klich in midfield.
In the international market, the right player was not available.
"When we analysed the market we detected that with the requirements we have for this position, if a player is not realistic over all the requirements, bringing in a player for the sake of bringing in a player is not clever," he said.
"It can be worse. We prefer to bring in a good player.
As for Cantwell and Sibley, Orta made no secret of the fact that they have been considered by his recruitment team.
Orta added: "We analyse all the players," he said.
"We know them really well, their clubs were our rivals, we analysed [Cantwell] in the Premier League. But it's like a lot of players we've analysed.
"It's difficult. They are players we analysed, we have information and then we need to think about the possibility."
As ever, for Orta and his team, information remains king and will allow them to make swift decisions if circumstances change - as they often do - in this transfer window or the next one, which opens in January.
Orta said the plan for the winter window is simply to be ready to use their information to react to the needs of Bielsa or any shifts in availability when it comes to targets.
"We are always focused on information, managing it, analysing players, their availability, staying updated," he said.
"That could be useful for the winter market. We need to put in practice the usefulness of the knowledge."
Orta also spoke to the YEP about the club's new loan policy shortly before Robbie Gotts joined Lincoln City on a season-long loan.
Previously, young players on the fringe of the first team like Gotts were not sent out on loan because they were considered too vital to life at Thorp Arch, where they take part in the weekly murderball sessions and develop under the watchful eye of Marcelo Bielsa.
But promotion to the Premier League has allowed Orta and his recruitment team to bolster the club’s ranks of young talent with new faces from domestic and foreign markets, freeing up players in need of senior football experience to go and get it elsewhere.
Gotts courted interest from Huddersfield Town, Hull City, Lincoln City and Doncaster Rovers and joins Ryan Edmondson, Alfie McCalmont, Jordan Stevens, Bryce Hosannah and Mateusz Bogusz in getting competitive match minutes at another club.
Leeds are confident their young prospects will see game time, because of a financial incentive on offer for the loan clubs.
“It is true that we’re starting a process where we try to improve the loans in terms of creating a penalty for if the player doesn’t play,” said Orta.
“We’re not being focused on trying to recover money from the loan, we’re trying to recover performance from the loan.”
Simply put, if the player plays then the loan club get him for a nominal cost. If he doesn’t play, they pay a higher price.
So, in the case of McCalmont at League Two Oldham, for example, they get a player expected to be able to perform at that level for next to nothing if they can give him the game time Leeds want him to have.
What it ensures is that clubs will think twice about taking a Leeds player just to make up squad numbers.
“League One and League Two clubs are in a new problem with no fans in the stadiums,” said Orta.
“We discussed it for the new era of League One and League Two salary caps and we’re trying to prove it works with Swindon and Bradford, if the player doesn’t play having a penalty.
“For us it’s been interesting because Jordan [Stevens] started the loan really well with Swindon.
“If a team in League One and League Two really want a player then it’s a good synergy with us. It’s a really good idea for both cases.”