Victor Orta: How Leeds landed Marcelo Bielsa
Written by Simon Austin — October 10, 2019
FOR Victor Orta, it was third time lucky when he convinced Marcelo Bielsa to become manager of Leeds United in June 2018.
The Spaniard had tried - and failed - to land the legendary Argentine on two previous occasions, at Seville and Zenit St Petersburg. In the Training Ground Guru podcast, he revealed how he convinced Bielsa to come to Yorkshire, and outlined the impact that the Head Coach has had at Elland Road.
FIRST SEASON LESSONS
(Victor Orta was appointed Sporting Director of Leeds United in May 2017. In his first season, 2017/18, the club started with Thomas Christiansen as Head Coach, before replacing him with Paul Heckingbottom in February 2018. Heckingbottom was sacked at the end of the season, after the club had finished 13th in the Championship).
Victor Orta: The first season was a good season to learn my mistakes. It is true that we started with a project more medium term and then discovered that the medium term in Leeds can be difficult, for a lot of reasons.
Paul (Heckingbottom) was making a good job in the category (with Barnsley). But when you take these quick decisions you need to find quick reactions. One time it happens, another time it doesn’t happen.
In the middle of a season you cannot have time to evaluate more things, but I am still proud about Paul, who is making a good job in Scotland (with Hibernian). I am proud of a lot of decisions we took in the first year but I need to assume a lot of mistakes - and for that I say sorry.
These mistakes were never intentional. They were part of the project that didn’t work and I need to take responsibility, I don’t have any problem with that.
But the best situation is when you take the responsibility and analyse and try and change these mistakes. This was the idea of the second year, when the project was very different.
CHANGE OF APPROACH
We detected that in this moment of the history of Leeds United we needed a really big change, a really big revolution. We needed a big investment in the Head Coach, because this club has a massive pressure around it and you need a big personality to manage it. We needed to build a club from a figure like this.
I was in a car with Andrea (Radrizzani) and he said, ‘If you have all the money, if you can choose any coach, who would you choose?’ I told him and he said, ‘Call him’. It’s true.
I had tried two times to get Marcelo Bielsa - once with Seville and once with Zenit. He is a reference for football. We tried at Seville, when he was leaving Chile, and when he arrived at Atletico (Bilbao) it was amazing. I always analyse his ideas and football. Even with his ups and downs, the quality of the football was amazing.
I commentated on the (2004) Olympic Games for Eurosport and had never watched an Olympic team play the football that Argentina did. These kind of things are always in my memory and I always evaluate this level of football. It’s really exciting.
I had the idea that he (Bielsa) could say yes, but it was Andrea who gave me the bravery to say, ‘Come on, try, try. Why not try?’
Marcelo is always evaluating the history, the fans, the challenge (before taking a job). My impression was that he knew we could have a good link, because we had known each other for years, but my concern was if we could impress Marcelo about Leeds United. In the end, we achieved both goals..
I met Marcelo with Andrea in Buenos Aires, and then with Angus (Kinnear) we had another meeting. Andrea was really impressed which, for me, was not a surprise, because I know Marcelo's way of work.
In the end it happened and changed all the club and increased all the standards.
I have always had success in football because of the synergy between the Director of Football and the Head Coach. Marcelo makes me a better person and a better professional each day. It’s difficult to say another thing about him.
I speak to him daily. In the summer, two or three times. Face to face we speak two times, three times per week. Recruitment is not about having a meeting with the Head Coach in March or May, ‘I like this and this’ - I need to know the requirements and elements that he wants daily.
For me, it’s a surprise that people in England still don’t know our role. Stuart Webber is the best in England. With Norwich, he is making a nice example of how a Director of Football can help a club.
We never make line-ups, we never give opinions about training. We are the link between the Head Coach and chairman and oversee the Academy, recruitment, renewals of the players, trying to pull everyone together - the Head Coach, Board, Chairman, Chief Executive.
Obviously, recruitment is important, but it’s more than this. We choose the Head Coach, plan the Academy and put succession planning in place. I know that the manager was a figure who was really important in English football in the past, but we enrich the work of the Head Coach, it’s our daily goal.
I don’t want to be a Head Coach, I don’t have a licence to train. I want the success of my coach. (Otherwise) he has to watch Norway Under-21s, negotiate the contract of a player.
Do you think it’s a good start of a relationship for a Head Coach to negotiate the money and the next day the player says, ‘I deserve £500 more per week’?
Kevin Thelwell at Wolves is also doing really amazing work and that helps people to understand our role more. We need to use the successful situation of people like him and Stuart Webber to try and help people understand that this role tries to help clubs.
BELIEF IN YOUTH
In Seville, when I analyse our success, I always have the same opinion - it was an amazing Academy and amazing talent from abroad. This is my idea now and one of the things I want to leave is this philosophy - the Academy and the best talent from abroad.
I respect a lot the Academy of this club. If you watch the production of talent of this Academy, it is amazing. For me, it is really important to produce Academy players, because this club has history and I need to respect these things when I am working in a club. From the start, when we arrived at Leeds United, Category 1 was something we were working towards.
Marcelo has also always been the same in his career - he likes to develop young players because the coachability he finds is amazing for his ideas.
And we have a situation here which is really special in English football - one of Marcelo’s assistants, Carlos Corberan, is manager of the Under-23s. So Marcelo has a daily knowledge (of the young players), not only one game per week. It’s a daily knowledge about all the Academy.
To be honest, Carlos never rests. Being the assistant of Marcelo and manager of the U23s is tough, but it means the information and evaluation about the young players is hourly.
DO BIELSA TEAMS FALL AWAY AT THE END OF THE SEASON?
I think this is unfair. In the end, what is the difference in football? Tyler Roberts hitting the post against Sheffield United (when Leeds lost 1-0 at home in March)? If he scores, perhaps history is different. Or the bad Good Friday with Wigan (when Leeds lost 2-1 at home)?
The situation of the injuries was also bad. I think we had only three games in the same moment with Patrick Bamford and Kemar Roofe (playing together), which is really unusual.
It is details and we need to analyse situations where we can improve. We need to forget and build a future, because the past doesn’t give anything to the future. One thing I am sure of is that my Head Coach and staff analyse everything. This is a luxury for me and I’m really proud of my staff.
The continuity, the knowledge between the players and Head Coach obviously helps us this season. The word continuity is always in all our discussions.
Marcelo can improve our standards with his experience, his knowledge, his capacity. He is always open to, ‘what do you think about this?’ This is a pleasure.
One of the things I also need to recognise is the support from the Board, the Chairman and Angus Kinnear to agree in this kind of project. At another club, they would say, ‘no, no, the important thing is the salaries and the players on the pitch’.
Here, they have the overview that the important thing is to develop all the club. Angus Kinnear helped me a lot and had this visualisation. When you have this Board and Executive to help the football decisions it’s really good.
And it is not only the years that Marcelo will be here, but the legacy he will leave as well.