Work still to do, questions to be answered and what we can say about Leeds United's summer window - Graham Smyth

Leeds United’s summer 2020 transfer window cannot be declared a complete success, just yet, because there is still work to be done and because football is not played on paper or on Victor Orta’s laptop.

By Graham Smyth
Thursday, 1st October 2020, 5:45 am
INCOMING - French midfielder Michael Cuisance could play as a number eight for Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United. Pic: Getty
INCOMING - French midfielder Michael Cuisance could play as a number eight for Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United. Pic: Getty

The latter isn’t strictly true, he does use it to play Fantasy Premier League and he is quite handy – a scurrilous rumour emerged in the Elland Road offices on January’s deadline day earlier this year that he was helping to pick the teams of other staff members with lesser expertise.

A first-ever Premier League window with the Whites has allowed Orta to play fantasy football in real life, with a huge budget and the green light to spend it on players he has long wanted to see out on the pitch at LS11.

Orta often says his job is to give Marcelo Bielsa the tools he needs to do his job but also admits that no-one has a 100 per cent track record when it comes to signings.

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He got it very right with Ben White and Illan Meslier looks more bargainous all the time – at Sheffield United he made Orta, and goalkeeping coach Marcos Abad, look like visionaries.

But the yet-to-be-resolved Jean-Kevin Augustin saga is a sobering reminder that even if a player comes with a YouTube highlight reel of silky skill, a big reputation, top-flight continental experience and a big price tag, sometimes deals just don’t work out. This is football, as Orta would say.

So we won’t know just how good his 2020 recruitment was until the new boys have helped keep Leeds in the Premier League. That might not sound like a hugely successful first season and Rodrigo and co will certainly set their aims a little higher, but it’s the priority for Bielsa’s new-look squad.

It might even take longer than a season to decide that a signing was the right one – Helder Costa has taken his time to really bed in and start showing his ability and Jack Harrison only really started pulling up trees last season.

CAMEO - Rodrigo's display against Sheffield United suggested he may be able to play the number 10 role for Leeds United. Pic: Getty

What you can say about Orta’s first foray into the market as a top-flight club is that they’ve been ambitious, efficient, adaptable and organised.

When players they initially targeted were taken off the list by various circumstances, Leeds reacted quickly, switching focus from top-end Championship stars to internationals from Europe’s top leagues.

Orta couldn’t prise White away from Brighton so he landed a German national team defender, with Bundesliga experience, for less than half of what he would have had to pay if the Seagulls had relented.

When the Josko Gvardiol interest didn’t result in a closing of the boardroom curtains for photos of a contract signing, Orta landed a Spanish national team defender.

That swift switch of focus can only happen if there is a plan and Orta’s famous lists ensured that Leeds were not paralysed by the failure to land target number one.

Neither Robin Koch nor Diego Llorente were considered consolation prizes because both had been tracked for years by the head of recruitment and because Bielsa approved.

Getting Rodrigo, for a club-record fee, was a display of Leeds’ intentions to behave like a Premier League club, while adding a player Bielsa has wanted but been unable to sign at previous clubs, a player whose ability and humility make him a good fit for the system.

The rumour mill really kicked into gear for the midfield vacancy Orta set out to fill and 48 hours rarely went by without a new name ‘close to a deal’ with the Whites, but while Rodrigo De Paul flirted with fans on social media and kept himself linked to Elland Road, Orta made discreet advances towards Bayern Munich for Michael Cuisance.

A bid, Elland Road sources say, was never made for De Paul and although constant reports turned it into a bit of a sideshow, it acted as a smokescreen that allowed Leeds to get a deal done for a midfielder in relative peace and quiet. Just a winger remains now, when it comes to first-team recruitment, to allow Leeds to say they’ve got what they came for from this market.

Bielsa, unsurprisingly, will just adapt, he says, if the last bit of business cannot be done and we’ve seen him do it before.

When Kalvin Phillips went down with injury at the end of last season, no one guessed that Pascal Struijk would be the solution and a more than adequate one at that.

Stuart Dallas is the solution to a number of other problems that could arise and all of the new boys signed thus far have enough versatility in their game to fill potential gaps in every area.

Once the window closes and we can all concentrate on football again, we can begin to assess whether or not Orta gave Bielsa the right tools to do the job if Pablo Hernandez can’t play or if Mateusz Klich’s invincibility wears off.

Those remain the biggest question marks, even taking Rodrigo’s impressive cameo at Bramall Lane and Cuisance’s promising profile as a prospective No 8 into account.

A good window? Leeds think so. After Monday it’s over to Bielsa to begin proving it and Orta can get back to making his lists and deciding which of his shiny new signings will make his and his colleagues’ fantasy teams.