Victor Orta's European dream at Leeds United no longer a laughing matter after memorable year
Leeds United have achieved a lot on and off the pitch in 2020.
Eleven months can be a long time in the world of football – players come and go, managers swap dugouts and even ownership can change.
Is it, though, hard to imagine that Leeds United will ever endure a longer 11 months than the period which has just elapsed.
United entered 2020 bidding to end 16 years of hurt outside of the Premier League, with worries over Marcelo Bielsa’s striking options for the promotion run-in the biggest concern.
It is probably symptomatic then of what has unfolded inside the Elland Road bubble in recent times that Victor Orta’s talk of Europe failed to make the same national headlines in November as it would have on New Year’s Day.
Amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic there will be hope inside the four walls of LS11 that the Whites have provided a little comfort in the hardest of times for those of a United persuasion around the globe.
An emotional return to England’s elite was finally secured after an elongated Championship promotion race.
Long-standing transfer records have been smashed and a new contract for Bielsa was eventually signed, sealed and delivered by the Argentine.
Sporting director Orta has become somewhat of a cult hero in West Yorkshire, mainly due to his recent dealings on the pitch and his endearing antics off it.
It has been somewhat of a turnaround for the Spaniard after he and owner Andrea Radrizzani freely admitted to their mistakes in the first season of the Italian’s sole ownership.
Orta has helped turn the fortunes of the club around in his four seasons so far and was a key man in bringing head coach Bielsa to England over two years ago.
Lucrative job offers have been made in a bid to lure him away from Leeds, but the advances of Bundesliga side RB Leipzig and Serie A giants Roma were swiftly turned down without a second glance.
If there were still doubts about his commitment, and his directors’ box displays still weren’t enough to convince, then an outlining of his long-term ambitions – the same ones which would’ve been laughed off in January – will have eased any fears.
Orta has plans and big ones at that and after a strong start to the Premier League season, they don’t seem as improbable as they would have when Eddie Nketiah returned to Arsenal in the winter window last term.
“We have ambition in the good sense, with the idea to build this step by step,” Orta told the BBC recently.
“Perhaps not the first year, perhaps not the second year, perhaps not in the third year, but my ambition is for Leeds United to play European football again.
“When I talk to players to convince them to join Leeds United, I always say the same. We’re not making anything new, I don’t want to put where Leeds United was, it’s nothing new for them to play in European competitions.
“This is my goal but with realism and ambition, step by step.”
As Leeds supporters would attest, it feels typical of the club that a year of such achievement is yet to be properly celebrated by fans and players alike.
Orta, though, hopes that the locals, the ones who mean so much to the game, will be back enjoying United’s recent on-field success in the stands as soon as safely possible.
“Football is the fans and football is for the people,” Orta continued.
“Who creates this business, this relationship, is the fans. Who creates all these things, it’s the fans’ love of the game.
“This industry is created by the fans, it is the only reality. We have to put in the same level as the fans.
"Leeds needs Leeds United but Leeds United needs Leeds more than anything.
“We need to go back to society and what they give to us because they’re the reason I stay in my job, I can only be grateful. I can only make the best for me with mistakes, with failure, with success.
“You work for me and my group but I work to try and bring this club to its real position and make a lot of people happy, that is the fans.
“Now is my fourth season, the second club that I have more years now in my life, this is my real pride, I can sew myself in the ideas on the pitch, in my ideas outside the pitch.
“Leeds United are my life. Not only in terms of professionally, but in terms of proper life.”