Victor Orta exclusive - a strange summer, the impact of crises and Leeds United's English footballing first

It was a strange summer for Leeds United director of football Victor Orta but one that ended with what he feels is a stronger squad for Marcelo Bielsa to work with.

Friday, 3rd September 2021, 4:44 am

The Whites signed Barcelona left-back Junior Firpo early on in the transfer window for a fee of around £13m, filling a void left by Gjanni Alioski, with whom negotiations over a new deal came to nought.

Jack Harrison’s permanent move from Manchester City took place a year later than planned, at a cost of £11m, allowing him to add to his 128 Whites appearances made as a loanee.

Kiko Casilla’s departure on loan to Elche was agreed while Orta and his team worked in the background to bring in 20-year-old Kristoffer Klaesson from Vålerenga in Norway.

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That particular deal required the approval of an exception panel, due to Klaesson falling just short of the points total needed for a post-Brexit Governing Body Endorsement. Leeds became the first club to successfully argue the case for an exception, Klaesson gaining the necessary work permit thanks in part to his high potential.

The goalkeeper was one of a raft of new youngsters arriving at Thorp Arch in the summer as Mark Jackson’s Under-23 options were bolstered, before Orta’s final act of the window, the £25m capture of Daniel James.

That went through on deadline day afternoon, leaving a handful of exits for Under-23 players and the loan of Helder Costa to Valencia to be completed, but Orta’s recruitment was done and dusted.

“I have, what is the word in English for that?” he asked, pointing out the bags under his eyes.

STRANGE SUMMER - Victor Orta saw the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic lingering in the summer transfer window as Leeds United met their objectives. Pic: Getty

“It was a strange summer. To be honest I feel this summer reflected more on the Covid crisis than the [last] one because perhaps in the last one we still had the expectation that in a moment the fans would be back [but fans did not return in full at all last season].

“Now there are still fears around the world about the negatives of that so it was a bit of a conservative summer, not only in England, in all the world. The different crises, the TV crisis in France, the situation in Spain with the salary caps, people were trying more to get players they don’t need out, than players they need in.

“When you analyse the big, big movements, with Messi, Sergio Ramos, there is like a domino situation.”

Leeds were a beneficiary of the domino effect, Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford pushing James towards an exit that had otherwise looked unlikely all summer long.

In a conservative market, despite having little in the way of first-team additions planned, Leeds still had to work hard to do business that met with the current recruitment policy, the budget and Bielsa’s expectations.

“Again it was our line to get quality, not quantity and be creative to strengthen the team,” Orta told the YEP.

“There was a lot of time spent working together with Marcelo and his staff.

“The situation of the left-back was an issue from the start of the market and we were really happy to solve it quickly and allow Junior to start a proper pre-season with our style of football. The situation of the winger, we were trying to get the name, not trying to get one player for one player’s sake. The reason it was perhaps more delayed is because we were trying to get the name, the player we really wanted, so we didn’t need to sort it at the start of the market. The situation of the keeper was more or less sorted in parallel, the negotiations with the loan to Elche and I have to feel proud that we were the first team to pass an exception panel in England with Kristoffer.”

Some of the summer work was not related to incoming recruitment but player retention.

CEO Angus Kinnear revealed that upwards of £100m in interest for Leeds’ star players – those on whom the club are relying to keep them in the Premier League beyond a second season – had been rejected out of hand.

Owner Andrea Radrizzani has previously held up the Leicester City model, one that requires the fairly regular sale of one or two players at great profit, as an example.

But this summer was not the right time to start cashing in on those whose valuations have skyrocketed since Bielsa’s 2018 arrival.

“With the youngsters, one year more mature, then good youngsters behind those names and one important thing – another way is to not sell one of the stars,” said Orta.

"We’re still in a moment of creating the foundation to become established in the Premier League, so our market was really clear with respect to selling stars. It’s part of the foundation to continue building for the future.”

The end result, at 11pm on Tuesday, August 31, was a good one for Orta.

Although he will be the first to admit recruitment is judged over time, in results and league positions, he looks back on the window and a strange summer with a measure of satisfaction.

“The goal for a director of football and a head coach, after the market, is to improve the squad and I feel we did that,” he said.

"The addition of Junior, in relation to the situation with Alioski, the addition of Klaesson in relation to Casilla and obviously now Daniel, for me we are improving the squad.

“To be honest I personally am really happy because the situation of the winger, in a moment I felt it would be difficult but at the last moment, just like a year ago with Rennes and Raphinha when it moved so quickly, the Cristiano deal helped us finish a goal that was two and a half years in the making.

“For me personally today is a really happy day. I think we improved the squad.”