Last Wednesday, Victor Orta did an hour-long interview with La Media Inglesa in Spain. Joe Brennan has translated the interview and we will be releasing it in four parts here.
Check out Part I here.
In Part II, Orta talks about the job of sporting director and how he ended up working in the position for Leeds United.
The next two parts will be out over the next two days.
Q: I want to ask you specifically about your job. Lots of people ask us how to become a sporting director. What do I need to do? So, what is your story?
It’s a bit difficult to explain. I went to the hotels and asked for autographs of the players. I was a football nut, but a real nutter. I have friends who can say this but I crossed the line at times, I am crazy for football, but in the sense that I liked it.
There are loads of stories, ones not suitable for your under 18 audience. We got Canal+ [TV station] — my dad and I paid for it when I worked with him. Some friends came around for a Friday night drink and I wanted to watch Colombia vs Ecuador. I had Canal+ and wanted to watch it — it was Friday night! That meant for me Colombia vs Ecuador in the Copa América. My friend said I was crazy. He’s still my friend by the way. It was Friday night, Canal+, in 2003. No, 1997.
Q: Was it worth it?
It was a good game! I’ll tell you something about it: Ecuador played in yellow and Colombia in blue, the poor Spanish commentator spent the entire first half getting the teams mixed up! I remember it perfectly; my friend always reminds me of that story: “you’re the football weirdo!”
I focussed my football cycle is like that, as a fan — I never thought I would get to this [point]. In fact, I did journalism. I thought, look at all the people who study this and then only 10 guys speak on the whole radio, it’s never going to be me who does it.
I studied chemistry a little because, well, I was good at it. I studied it for myself because I was good at it. I didn’t want to do journalism. I was a coach at the time in and I remember after training I did social work in an area called Ventilla: now it’s a great place but back then it wasn’t so good and I was with kids with problems. There were 3 training sessions a week and the first 3 kids who got there would play [in the match at the weekend].
I remember one Friday when I was doing the team list, please [looks at camera] don’t hate me, he was called ‘Chini’ — it was a nickname, obviously — and I left him off the list. The game was on Saturday morning at 9 o’clock and I got there early to sort the kit out and all that stuff — guess who was there at half past seven in the morning with his tracksuit waiting there for me? Do you know how that weekend was for me?
We won 3–0. I remember, a kid called Jesús, he scored a couple of screamers and one from Olivar as well. But that weekend I was dead! No way I could be a coach! I don’t have the emotional intelligence to be a coach! Look what happens to me here with kids, I’m suffering like I am about to die, I couldn’t be a coach!
I continued my passion for football and through a friend, a big Barcelona fan, from a village in León, he tells me he’s got a friend who’s starting a local radio station. So I started with them. And they called me every Friday to analyse a bit the foreign players who were playing against Valencia that weekend. I moved on to talking on different media outlets: MARCA, Radio MARCA, Eurosport, it was like a snowball effect, we’re talking about 2000 and by 2002 I’m doing the World Cup on Radio MARCA.
In 2003, I got a call from a representation agency You First Sports, they’re still about today — that were really involved with Basketball and they wanted to branch into football. They had Álvaro Torre, Loren del Pino, Miguel Alfageme, Juan Aísa. One day Carlos Suárez called me, I was 26 years old at the time, I’d travelled around a bit, I knew Monchi, Roberto Olabe and others in football but apart from that we helped getting Adriano Correa to Sevilla as intermediaries. I tried to be innovative, I knew international football. I was crazy for it all.
I have in my house, from when I was 12 years old, from all the matches I ever watched, papers I wrote about line-ups, tactical situations, goals scored and the final score, like in the newspapers. So every game I watched since I was 12 I did that and still have the papers, I’ve got them now stacked so that they probably reach up to the ceiling, and I did that with every game. ‘The old database’ — back in the past there was a world where there was no internet! I got MARCA and AS and stuck them onto paper.
One thing that I was obsessed by, talking about England, was in MARCA and AS used to publish, every Saturday before the start of the Premier League the papers published a supplement with all the formations of every team in the league. This is before the MARCA season guidebook came out. Another thing is that they actually asked me for help when redesigning the guidebook! They got me to organise the stats page for the international players. Carlos Carpio (Director for MARCA) said to me, “You, you’re a weirdo. If you bought the MARCA guidebook and looked at the international section, how would you want it to be organised?” And they still keep the same design that I told them and I’m very proud of that.
Anyway, the Saturday they released the old supplement I was so nervous all weekend, waiting. Will they release it? Won’t they? Will they? I got there and saw it [celebrates] Get in! I’ve got one. So every week I’d fill it out.
Carlos Suárez called me and said “let’s meet in Arévalo. At that point we represented Álvaro Mejía, do you remember, the centre back for Real Madrid. So I sit down and Carlos says, that he wants me to be the Sporting Director for Real Valladolid. I had only just sat down! Carlos what are you talking about? Are you high? You’ve got a lot of older players than me [who could do the job], footballers who I used to ask for their autographs in the Madrid training ground! What are you talking about?
Or Jose Luis Pérez Caminero who could help you with everything to do with professional football etc. He says “you’d be in charge of scouting and innovation.” Driving home I was thinking what do I say? Yes, right? I had to go for it. I was lucky that the first year was OK and we did a year with Mendilíbar and we had all pre-season sorted and I got rid of the thorn in my side that I considered promotion — then Monchi called me to be his second-in-command.
That right there is a 7-year Masters in being a sports director. It’s like a course, you’re at the side of a mentor, the best, someone who you can learn everything from. It’s interesting because Monchi went from a player to a representative to the sporting director. He always tells me I’ve been really self-taught, it’s true that I’ve been authoritative in what I’ve done. Now there are courses, lots of scouting course, of whatever, back then there was nothing.
And it’s a difficult job, you’ve got to be up to date with the tactical side of things, watching games, etc. You have to know laws, and now more than ever with Brexit: contracts, situations, FIFA laws, UEFA laws, the TMS [FIFA Transfer Matching System]. You have to know about human resources; management of scouts; management of staff; management of administration; you have to have a certain level of finance knowledge: amortisation, salaries, budgets.
It’s like the Range book, you don’t need to know a lot about one thing but bits of everything. It’s a job that has developed here in England; for a short time the culture has had a sporting director as a fixed position, thanks to people like Stuart Webber at Norwich — who I call the English Monchi — it’s a job that valued more now and is a bridge between the administration/directors and the football pitch.
Before, it was a territorial battle so now you have to have one foot on each side, you have to have a lot of credibility, it’s a job with a lot of different aspects to it. There are courses now for it, to be a sporting director, masters and things but there’s a lot of self-learning as well, you have to be innovative and you have to keep moving because it’s not easy, it’s not easy.
My story is like that and I’m grateful for it. It’s true that it’s an opportunity I’ve taken advantage of but it feels a bit like destiny and a lot of things from a kid [himself], who still has a lot of things that kid who asked for autographs in hotels had. For him it was a normal Friday, but I’m not talking about Valencia, Racing Santander came to town and I went.
One day I told the story to Jesús Merino [ex-player for Racing de Santander], he said “you were the child who came to the hotels! I can’t believe it! I always thought “who is this kid who waits for us every week in hotels in Madrid” — and it was me! He signed it for me paying no attention, Merino, Popov, Estéban Torre and I went home on the underground as happy as Larry! I went home as though Kevin Keegan and Ryan Giggs had just signed the paper for me! That was the kid who ended up working in the game that still loves it.
Q: Víctor, what’s it like being a sporting director in a country in which the position still holds a certain level of suspicion, where the people are not so used to it?
We have an association of sporting directors here and the first question I asked at my first meeting was what will I need to say to the fans to explain my role to them? I’ve been asked if I create the training sessions, if I gave half-time team talks, if I chose the line-ups — I’m not going to give any suggestions of line ups to MB or AK! That’s absurd!
These people don’t understand the role; obviously the transfers you identify yourself with more but a sporting director doesn’t just do transfers they do a lot of things. There’s been a lot of misinformation about the job in England and especially with the modern role managers play. And in the past, the few clubs with sporting directors had not done so well.
Now, fortunately, and I’ll mention him again, Stuart Webber, what he has done at Norwich with players like Pukki, Buendía, players that nobody knew about, has made that people interpret his role from a point of view as the leader of the success, that has helped us all.
Now there’s almost a 60–70% of clubs that have them in English football. In fact, the FA have created a course just for that: it takes 5 years. It’s longer than those of Spain and Italy but here you have to study for 5 years to get the official title of sporting director. You start off as a talent identification scout and work your way up the ladder. It’s five courses. That’s made us a lot calmer because the people genuinely didn’t understand what it is that we do.
It’s true that there is a certain sense of conservatism — within the whole country, not just football — that the managers decide, and one thing I always say is that I love that in football the recipe for success is absolutely inscrutable. I don’t think the sporting director model is the only way to succeed, there are presidential models that are extraordinarily successful; there are models in which the manager has all the power that are extraordinarily successful; there are director general models where the general manager is more focussed around the club as a business and they have advisers around the football side of things that are absolutely successful and the same for the sporting director model.
You have to have a big ego to say this is the only successful model: absolutely not! It’s the same on the pitch where you can win playing counter-attack, defending, like Italy in 1982 or Brazil in 1970, in the offices too there are a lot of ways to do things. I perform the role I do in a club with a sporting director model because it’s the way in which I can give the biggest output, but no way do I think that it is the sole way for success because history has said exactly the opposite.
Part III of this interview will be released tomorrow.
Feel free to share parts of this interview but please make sure you give credit to the translator, Joe Brennan. You can follow Joe Brennan on Twitter @j4brennan.
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