Go back even five years, and most Leeds United fans had accepted the Championship was the present and future of the club. Progress on the pitch was minimal, with a dour playing squad and precious little in the way of reasons to feel optimistic.
However, the arrival of Victor Orta as the clubs Director of Football was the beginning of a catalyst that has turned Leeds into one of the most entertaining clubs not only in England, but in Europe. Today, the Whites play an entertaining, effervescent style of play that has a huge bearing on how the club is seen. So much so that stars have joined who would never have done so.
Much of this work comes down to Marcelo Bielsa, one of the great training ground coaches of all-time. Orta, though, should be given his fair amount of credit. The Spaniard arrived in an era where Leeds were wasting money, with the likes of Caleb Ekuban an example of a transfer strategy that was paying back very little in return.
It was at this point, with Leeds finishing 13th, that Orta decided it was time to come up with a new plan. A plan to build around a young core of players that could be seen as respecting of the clubs history and tradition. So, Orta done what any good Director of Football does; he went to see the chairman, in this case Andrea Radrizzani.
The Leeds owner was a key part of turning around Leeds, but initially the decisions off the pitch were poor. This led to a lot of internal dispute, and Orta himself admitted that it was a fiery shouting match between he and the owner that eventually brought Leeds to where they are today.
How did Victor Orta turn things around at Leeds?
In the face of major fan criticism and a desire to make change, Orta went to see Radrizanni and spoke candidly about the state of the club. In an interview with La Media Ingelsa, through Joe Brennan, Orta said: “When Andrea bought the club he presented to us the project — a club that needed a medium-term project, developing players, a young manager — an important club model. I knew the history of Leeds but didn’t know the current situation.
“I had a very tough meeting with Andrea, I remember it perfectly, in a Japanese restaurant. There was a famous F1 driver next to us and I’m not saying that it got physical but there was a moment in which the F1 driver nearly got up to separate us because we were shouting so much, but it was because of the passion. We wanted to talk about what club model we wanted; I had an offer to go back to Spain — he knew that, I’d told him — and I was doubting whether or not to go back.
“So, after that and, above all, due to the intelligence of Angus Kinnear, we decided on the model of the project that we wanted. I told Andrea that Leeds is not a club that you can come in to do a medium-term project, relaxed, wait and see what happens with, for instance, Jay Roy Grot, having two good seasons, sell him for double etc, no. It’s a club that has a historic demand and a historic weight that is incredible.”
He noted that it was a transfer agreement to go for a manager who would make the difference, in this case Bielsa, as well as a change in transfer strategy that set Leeds on the current path to success. If only every problem at Leeds could be solved over an angry restaurant chat!