Victor Orta exclusive, part 2 - Leeds United director of football on done deals, Ryan Kent, Rodrigo De Paul and a new obsession
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A week into August he saw no trends and deemed the window an ‘absolute unknown’.
Two months on, with the international window closed and the domestic deadline closing in, the market is no longer a complete stranger to the director of football, but it is still strange. It was a summer in which the unexpected became expected.
READ: Part one of our exclusive interview with Victor Orta as he talks about midfielders of interest and Leeds' summer 2020 transfer window. 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 insists 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’.”
READ: Part three, Victor Orta explains Leeds United's new loan policy as Robbie Gotts nears temporary moveOrta says much of the work of a scouting department will be 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.”