Victor Orta confirms past Leeds United talks with title-winning coach as Marcelo Bielsa replacement

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Leeds United had long been eyeing Jesse Marsch but talks were held with alternative options.

Victor Orta has confirmed that Leeds United held talks with Paulo Fonseca over the vacant manager’s job after sacking Marcelo Bielsa in February 2022.

Bielsa left Leeds in heart-breaking fashion after taking just one point from his final six games, with an injury-ravaged squad on the end of some heavy defeats. Then-owner Andrea Radrizzani admitted it was the toughest decision he’d made in West Yorkshire and American Jesse Marsch was quickly brought in to replace the much-loved Argentinian.

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Orta often described Marsch as the natural successor to Bielsa and it was thought the former RB Leipzig boss had long been lined up to take charge at Elland Road. But after Bielsa’s exit, it seems Leeds opened talks with other options and three-time Ukrainian Premier League-winning coach Fonseca was among them.

“It was, to be honest, a really good meeting,” Orta told a TransferRoom conference of talks with Fonseca. “Normally, these first interviews are really good, it’s like a first date, you say ‘look, your club is amazing, your chairman is amazing, your fans are amazing, the city is amazing’, Now, in Seville it’s easier than perhaps it was at Leeds.

“But, you need to try that and the coach says ‘I have a real work commitment, I am really good with the players, a really good leader’. It’s normal because you try to impress, and then after the meetings, normally you need to take another opinion from a player that he trained or another director that worked with him.

“These opinions are obviously subjective. This is the thing, to try to create a model of decision that’s fairer for the coaches, fairer for the clubs, and with more information, it will be really useful.”

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Fonseca was available at the time, having left Serie A outfit Roma in May 2021. The Portuguese boss is highly thought of across European football and would have been a shrewd arrival in West Yorkshire, but talks seemingly never progressed as Orta focused on Marsch.

“It was fast,” Fonseca added of the meetings. “Honestly, we didn’t speak too much on this day, you (Orta) showed me more about your club, at that time Leeds, about the facilities, the philosophy, the culture of the club, even the city, it was more about this.”

Leeds eventually went through with appointing Marsch and remained in the Premier League with a final-day win at Brentford. But the American failed to win over fans and was sacked just one year after his appointment, with the club once again floating above the relegation zone after a summer of poor recruitment.

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Replacement Javi Gracia lasted just two-and-a-half months before also leaving, with the decision to appoint Sam Allardyce for the final four games forcing sporting director Orta to resign. The Spaniard has since returned to Sevilla.

After seeing the Leeds job pass him by, Fonseca held talks with Tottenham Hotspur and was also on the radar of Newcastle United and Aston Villa. The 51-year-old joined French side LOSC Lille in 2022 and looks set to lead them to consecutive European finishes in Ligue 1.