The Orta Era: A Transfer Review

In this piece, Matthew Keegans-Wood takes a look at Victor Orta’s transfer record at Leeds, trying to determine where the Spaniard has accrued value for the club.

Victor Orta is the subject of much debate regarding the effectiveness of his recruitment process. Marcelo Bielsa credits him with the building the team which he coaches, and should Leeds finally win promotion at Orta’s third attempt, the end will surely justify the means.

Having said that, if promotion comes to pass, Orta will be joining a much higher stakes transfer game and, as such, a data-driven review of his recruitment to date could provide some insight into what to expect from him moving forward.

Methodology

The basic premise explored is in this piece is where Orta’s signings have increased or decreased in value from when they were:

a) Signed on loan and returned to their parent club.

b) Signed permanently and then subsequently sold.

c) Signed permanently and remain at the club.

d) Signed pre-Orta and remain at the club — this will be more a measure of the change in value of players he (and Bielsa) deemed good enough to keep.

The piece doesn’t take into account loan fees and wages and doesn’t attempt to provide a profit and loss for Orta’s recruitment process but rather uses the changes in value to assess the success or otherwise of individual transfers.

Transfer values have been compared using data from transfermarkt.com, using actual reported transfer fees where possible and current* Transfermarkt market values to assess loans and values of players who are still at the club.

*I have used market values from February 2020 as many values have dropped as a result of Covid-19. The very latest data would negatively skew the data.

Loans

In order to assess loans, I have used the player’s value at the start and end of the loan, the theory being that is a player’s value has increased over the period of the loan it could be perceived to have been successful.

A note on Helder Costa: given his loan has an obligation to buy he is de facto a permanent signing and I have treated him as such in this piece.

From the eleven loan signings during Orta’s tenure, there are three which stand out as being the most successful, two of which will come as no surprise with Jack Harrison and Ben White being standout contributors to the team this season.

The other stand out success, value-wise, is Eddie Nketiah. While he couldn’t displace Patrick Bamford as first choice in Bielsa’s line up, he did have several important contributions from the bench and both Leeds and Bielsa were disappointed to see him go. He has played an active part in Arsenal’s season on his return and it could be argued that his loan was successful albeit shorter than would have been hoped.

At the other end of the scale are Izzy Brown and Jean-Kevin Augustin. Brown’s inability to have any sort of impact on his return from injury is shown by a big drop in his value and while the jury is out on Augustin, his relatively high starting value, his lack of match fitness and the fact that he’s dropped from the Bundesliga to the Championship go some way to explaining his sizable drop in value.

Of the remaining six players:

Matthew Pennington was a reasonable back up to Liam Cooper and Pontus Jansson which is borne out by a reasonable increase from a low starting point.

Both Cameron Borthwick-Jackson’s initial valuation and the fact that it didn’t drop following an ineffective loan spell with Leeds appears odd.

Jamal Blackman’s value remained unchanged after his spell was just short by a broken leg without making an appearance.

Lewis Baker’s ineffective and consequently curtailed loan spell was borne doubt by a drop in his value.

Ilan Meslier’s value has remained unchanged during his loan spell after which Leeds are likely to take up an option to sign him permanently reportedly for a figure similar to his Transfermarkt value.

Lastly, the curious case of Pierre-Michel Lasogga, whose season with Leeds was a microcosm of that season as a whole. He looked outstanding on occasion but ultimately not consistently good enough as his form and the season ended with a disappointing whimper. Overall, he managed 10 goals in 31 games at a goal every 187 minutes which ultimately secured an increase in his value.

In summary, five of the eleven loans resulted in an increase in value with three remaining unchanged and three suffering decreases in value. This seems to be a reasonable hit rate and the success of loans has broadly shown an improvement from 17/19 through to 19/20, albeit from a small data set. This is further reflected in the aggregate value generated across all loans being £6.75m.

Permanent Transfers

In order to assess the permanent transfers, I have used the differential between joining transfer fee and departing transfer fee as reported on Transfermarkt for players who have left the club (highlighted in yellow) and, where a player remains at the club (highlighted in blue), I have used their current market value (again, using February 2020 as the cut off).

The first thing to note is the relatively high number of permanent signings made during Orta’s first season: 18 in total with only eight in the last two seasons (including Helder Costa who I have included here although he is technically a loan with an obligation to buy).

Of those 18 signings, only seven remain while all of the eight players signed in the last two seasons remain. This would point to a change in strategy from signing a high number of players with potential improvement for relatively low fees to more focus on quality rather than quantity. There has also been an emphasis on players with experience of Championship football.

This change can be seen from Orta’s first transfer window in summer 2017 to January 2018 with the signings of Tyler Roberts and Adam Forshaw, although January 2018 also saw the signing of Laurens De Bock.

Of the players to have come and gone, two stand out as the most significant. Pontus Jansson, who it’s fair to say Orta inherited as he was at the club on loan before being signed permanently and Samu Saiz. Both are good enough players to still be at the club but for various (primarily personal or attitude) reasons were moved on for £1.94m profit in Jansson’s case and a disappointing £0.9m loss in Saiz’s.

Of the remaining nine players to have left, none made a significant positive impact. The only ones to be sold on while generating a profit were Caleb Ekuban and Tom Pearce while Hadi Sacko and Pawel Cibiki were sold on at £1m+ losses.

The aggregate of these 11 transfers is a £1.59m loss: a loss which was significantly mitigated by the sale of Jansson.

Of the permanent transfers which remain at the club, it is expected that Laurens De Bock has no long-term future and there is little prospect of recouping anything approaching his £1.5m transfer fee. Jay-Roy Grot has youth on his side and may yet deliver a return on his investment. But both he and De Bock have market values lower than their transfer fees.

Jordan Stevens, Mateusz Bogusz, Leif Davis, Elia Caprile and Ian Poveda were all signed with nil or minimal transfer fees with focus on under-23 football initially and, as such, have modestly increased in their market value.

Adam Forshaw and Barry Douglas have suffered decreases in their value which could both be attributed to fitness struggles which in Douglas’ case has inhibited his form.

£1m+ increases in value have been seen from Mateusz Klich, Tyler Roberts and Ezgjan Alioski and, given Kiko Casilla was signed on a free transfer, his value increase is unsurprising.

Helder Costa is difficult to assess given his loan status with an obligation to buy. His value has dropped from a position already lower than his transfer fee — no doubt as he dropped from the Premier League to the Championship and the time taken to adjust to Bielsa’s regime. Time will tell if, at around £15m, his transfer fee will be seen as good value. But the signs are promising as he continues to improve.

The aggregate value gained of players remaining at Leeds is a relatively modest £3.45m and, when combined the value generated from those that have left, this drops to a little over £1.5m, which is disappointing for three years of transfer dealings.

Pre-Orta Players

In order to assess the players who remain at the club having arrived before Orta, the market value was assessed at the start of Bielsa’s reign and compared to current market values. This assesses Bielsa’s effect on the players he deemed good enough to remain at Leeds.

Unsurprisingly, the results on value are almost uniformly positive: only Pablo Hernandez and Gaetano Berardi have had minor drops in value related to advancing years and a contract coming to an end respectively.

Stuart Dallas and value has increased by £0.9m and both Jamie Shackleton and Luke Ayling have enhanced their value by around £2m. But the biggest value increases have been seen by Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips at £5.4m and £9m respectively. This is hardly surprising as they have become the defensive core of Bielsa’s team supported by Pontus Jansson formally and Ben White latterly. The aggregate value increase for these seven players is £18.5m.

It should also be noted that the sales of pre-Orta signings Kemar Roofe, Ronaldo Vieira, Jack Clarke and Bailey Peacock-Farrell has contributed over £21m net in value given three out of the four were academy graduates. We should also mention the talent which is not assessed here in our under-23 team: Pascal Struijk, Bryce Hosannah, Robbie Gotts, Alfie McCalmont, Nohan Kenneh, Stuart McKinstry and Ryan Edmondson to name a few.

Conclusion

Of Victor Orta, it can be said that, while some of his loan deals have been very impressive, the aggregate of the value gained from his permanent signing is relatively unimpressive.

Is this the measure by which he should be judged? I can’t think of a better way to put this, so I am going to quote Jamie Kemp in his assessment of Orta’s role in a recent Q&A (which inspired this piece):

Bielsa undoubtedly remains Orta’s most effective signing when it comes to generating market value in the existing players, new signings and loan signing and, I believe in time, in academy graduates as well.

Whatever you think of Orta’s transfer dealings he, Bielsa and the team are on the verge of delivering the ultimate objective of promotion and he, just like Bielsa and the players should be given the opportunity to deliver on a bigger stage where the debate will no doubt carry on regardless.

You can follow Matthew Keegans-Wood on Twitter @keegans_wood.

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