Victor Orta: "City is the only Premiership team that can pay for Messi"
The epic accompanies Victor Orta wherever he goes (Madrid, 1978). The Leeds United Director of Football - and Monchi's right-hand man for seven seasons in the golden age of the Sevilla - found in the English team the opportunity to make history. After rebuilding the club's policy from the ground up with the clear objective of reaching the Premiership, the signing of Marcelo Bielsa as coach propelled the whites into the English Premier League. Orta talks to the ARA about his Leeds (11th on the table) and also gives an overview of the transfer market after Brexit and the possible arrival of Messi at Manchester City.
The transfer window ended a few days ago - how difficult has it been to manage?
— It's true that it's been a very calm market. Although the Brexit has affected it, the covid has had more impact. I remember when it all started, in the summer. The general director and I thought, pessimistically, that in December or January the audience could return, and look... For a club like ours the situation has caused a brutal lack of income of about 40-50 million compared to a normal year. The economic issue has scared many clubs and that's why there has been very little movement.
What other obstacles have you encountered?
— Although it's not a determining factor, the fact that there has been no scouting influences the decision-making process. Not being able to see the players live conditions everything. My department of scouting used to travel a lot and go to a lot of games and now we have to do a lot of video analysis. The pandemic has also affected us at a functional level. Going to a country and having to do a 6-day quarantine... Imagine a player arriving on loan. Between coming in, going through quarantine and training, it's already the end of February, and the league ends in May.
Have you noticed that all the clubs applied a similar transfer policy?
— There has been a lot of conservatism when it comes to letting players go. In the past there were clubs who had players they didn't use, and they were likely to look for a temporary release for them. This year, on the other hand, everyone's afraid that they might have players leaving or they might have an outbreak of covid in the dressing room. It's happened to us. There are teams from lower leagues that have asked us for players and we haven't loaned them because we had to be consistent. We already have a short squad and we couldn't weaken it any more.
This is the first transfer window after Brexit, how has it affected you?
— It has been complicated, but we still don't know the real impact. What is clear is that the new format of the market conditions a lot. Now players, depending on the league they play in, are assigned a certain rating. This has changed the viewing priority and the study of leagues. For example, Argentinian and Brazilian football, which were not a priority under the previous format, have become much more important. On the other hand, other leagues such as the Nordic leagues, where we were quite proactive in spotting young talent, have taken a back seat. Also, all the players who play in the Champions League, Europa League or Copa Libertadores get a lot of points and have a much better chance of coming to the Premiership. We are every day with the calculator adding up and counting the values of the players we are interested in.
Can this new format adulterate the competition?
— Maybe not adulterate, but the club that sells, if it does it intelligently, knows that we do not have so many alternatives. Maybe there are 60 left-backs who can play in the Premier League. With the points system, that leaves about 30. Of those, maybe 15 are available. This is when the selling club raises the price.
How does this policy affect Premier League clubs?
— It creates a lot more competition. Since January we have to have a minimum of eight Englishmen per team among the 25 chips. The Premier market will be barbaric. Nobody will sell any players. Not because of the money, but because English players now have an extraordinary value. If some foreign team raises the strategy of taking very young English talent whose contract is ending, it can make a lot of money, since the return to England of these players will be highly sought after.
In the winter transfer window there were rumours that Messi could be reunited with Guardiola at Manchester City. Do you see it viable?
— I do not know exactly the accounts of City, but I think they could pay. The owner of the club is a country.... I think only City could pay for Messi. I don't think neither Liverpool, United, or Arsenal could.
Leeds are back in the Premiership seventeen years after their relegation. Was it a blow that there were no fans in the stadium?
— It hurts me a lot because of the fans. "We've been in the Second Division for seventeen years and now we've gone up to the Premiership we can't go to the stadium". This is the only thing that people say to me on the street. It's what obsesses me the most. During the summer, I was thinking: "Oh my God, let's stay here". It makes me feel a sense of guilt and remorse to think that we can go down again and that these people have to go through all this again without having been able to see even one match of their team in the Premiership.
You studied chemistry. How did you become a director of football?
— I was just another fan, although I was a little bit of a geek. I've always liked international football, but I didn't see it as a career goal. It was destiny. I began to collaborate with small media and later I went to Marca and Eurosport news outlets. From there I got a call from a representation agency and, once inside, I started to meet people in football. One day the president of Valladolid, Carlos Suárez, called me and told me to meet him for lunch. When we sat down he told me that he wanted me to be the director of football of the club. I thought: "What is this man saying?". On the train back I knew I would accept.
And from there you made the leap to Sevilla to be Monchi's right-hand man.
— His second went to Xerez, and he called me to ask me if I wanted to be his technical secretary. That was like a master's degree in sports management. It was seven whole years with the best, learning at every second.
What was day-to-day life like with Monchi?
— He's a person who gives a lot of freedom to work, but at the same time he leads, doesn't shy away from responsibility and demands the maximum. He has a great desire to innovate and a vision of the profession that is always growing. He has a multidisciplinary way of understanding the job, which for me is key to being a director of football. Everyone is obsessed with recruiting players and coaches, but you also have to be a bridge between the board of directors and the coaching staff and be able to have a global vision of the youth teams and the philosophy and methodology of the medical department.
What is the key to Leeds' success?
— The first year, despite people criticising it a lot, we created a very solid foundation in terms of results and who we were as an organisation. That has been key going into the second and third year. When we landed the goal was to reach the Premier League in five years and attract young players, but once you arrive you see the historical baggage of the club and you see that it had to be done right away. Here there was a change in the point of view, and we bet on Marcelo Bielsa and experienced players who arrived on loan.
How do you get Bielsa to accept?
— Andrea Radrizzani [Leeds owner] and I were talking about a lot of names and he asked me: "Who is your favourite coach and why?" I said Bielsa, and he said: "So call him, go on!" I did, but he didn't pick up and I left a message on his answering machine. The next day, when he called me back, he'd already watched three or four Leeds games. I'd always had the intuition that he liked England and that he loved this kind of challenge. Taking a team with a clear objective, with a touch of epicness. I had always wanted to work with him. In Sevilla we were very close to it, but in the end it didn't work out.
How did the team receive his incorporation?
— It was one of the things that I was sure would work. The English players train really well and they have a concept of the coach as if he was the teacher. When a coach asks an English player to jump off a bridge into a river, the player does it and then asks why he had to do it. On the other hand, a player from somewhere else would ask the question before he jumped. I knew that our core group of players would understand Marcelo's football concept and methodology very well. I was more concerned with the language barrier than with the game model.
The work and connection between players, staff and management in order to get promoted to the Premier League was seen in the documentary Take Us Home: Leeds United. How did it come about?
— I was against the documentary from the start. Imagine going around all day with a mic and a camera hooked up... I've broken three mics because of how distressed I was at certain moments, imagine [laughs]. I've argued a lot with the president about the documentary and now I have to admit that he was right. It has helped us a lot with the image of the club. I can also tell you that we were good at creating content for the documentary. So many things happened to us that had never happened before. Even with a script it wouldn't have worked out so well. Cinematographically, everyone says that not going up during the first season was better, that it was more epic, but those of us who lived it from the inside didn't see it the same way [laughs].