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.
In Part III, Orta talks about how he plots his recruitment, the Raphinha transfer and how he knew Ben White was going to work after his first play on his debut.
The final part will be out tomorrow.
Q: People love the job of sporting director, mainly due to video games like Football Manager. I wanted to ask: how do you organise the year? What do you do in each month? How do you organise the transfer window? You’ve told me before that when the window comes you’re working from things you’ve done a whole year before.
The videogame thing happens to us all. I’m from the PC Football generation, the creator of which my right-hand man, Gaby Ruíz. Thanks to him Ponferradina were European Champions, those things don’t happen in real life.
For us in football, it’s very clear, and I’ll be brief as I don’t want to bore people. We divide the year into two parts, August to December is the first part where we create a ‘visionary’ of quantity and quality. They are leagues that, now with Brexit and the points system, we have levels: Band 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.
With bands 5 and 6 it is practically impossible for you to get the points needed to come to the UK, unless you are champions or play for your national team or have a great European tournament which in these leagues doesn’t normally happen, as the leagues are small, it’s unfair. Later if you want we can talk about something to do with Brexit that I think is a bit unfair.
From bands 1 to 4, we call those league priority leagues. Every month, we have an ideal eleven, a team based on age, cost, value to the club, contractual situation, is the player loaned from a big club. Obviously, in the Bundesliga, there aren’t any Bayern or Dortmund players but maybe from Arminia or VfL Bochum, etc. So, these are called the ‘chosen players’ and that’s from August to December and we’ve got in mind the summer and winter markets.
Then we’ve got the second section which we call ‘Visionary of quality’. If we’ve got Tondela with 4 chosen players against Famalicão with 3, we’re going to watch first that over a Paços Ferreira [with] 2 [chosen players] against Vizela 1 [chosen player]. So that’s how take a second look at quality. What do I want to from this? That my technical team and scouting team know very, very well 300 players instead of just knowing 3,000 players not very well. Why? Because we don’t have the resources to know 3,000 players. Other teams do have these resources because they have 1 or 2 scouts per country.
We have a Head of Recruitment and 4 international staff members. In England, we have one [scout] and 3 seniors so full time we have 7 staff members. Now we have a department of scouting and big data with a leader as well and also we’re doing something very innovative which is another added value a bit better than the Carroll/Downing method, in which we identify data from a qualitative point of view and not a quantitative one. It is one more part of the process, not the entire process, it becomes part of a mixed way of doing things. It’s not like Moneyball where the scouts are fighting against the data. It’s all integrated.
The second part is the ongoing conversations with the coach that happen all the time, not a meeting in April: How do you like your left-backs? No. For me, for example, Marcelo makes this very easy since his playing style is very clearly determined. I know what he likes. We have had hundreds of meetings in which we’ve said “wow, what a great player — but not for us.” We have identified this very well through doing it over a long period of time; over hours and hours of conversation with the coach, one, two or three hours a day.
So, we do a filter of players and necessities which is 1, 2, 3 and 4. If number one doesn’t come off, we can choose number 3 and we believe a lot in the methodology and it can work. What happens? The season starts and players can jump up levels in the ranking. I don’t want to make a joke but it’s what happened when Dan James went to Manchester United. He moves up and goes to a higher list. There are players that move up and players that move down, whether that be because of injuries or low performances, so it’s a meritocracy.
Every month there are 6, 7 or 8 other players — look at Mohammed-Ali Cho at Angers, who has just appeared this year — but there aren’t so many so we go back to our visionary. When a player — and this is the ideal case, it doesn’t always happen — is on the list for 5 years, like Raphinha, where a last-minute change in the market means he’s available, we don’t have to sit and watch DVDs or videos of him because we’ve already been doing it for 5 years.
This is the ideal situation. But in football there are no ideal situations. There are situations where you have to anticipate things, where you have less time to evaluate players especially with players under 20 players because you literally have less time, but this is the ideal reality that we want to get to.
Then, as you say, it is not pressing the button and GO. You have the convince the people around the player: I’m proud than for Robin Koch, one of the most determining factors was a famous presentation that we did. Well, that presentation has a lot of work behind it and we showed things exactly how we are: you are Robin Koch, we are Leeds United: this is why we think things will work between us under this manager, with this sporting director model and with this project.
It’s a very well-researched presentation, a very laborious one, a very individual one, and one that we with everyone from under-15 to Robin Koch. Why? Because I want that when the player crosses that line to come to Leeds they know everything and that their decision has been made with their heart and their head. And why we believe that it will work. Then, it can go well or not so well. But I felt pride in the fact that Robin Koch’s decision was made simpler thanks to that presentation because it shows that it is a model that we can continue to work with.
Then you need to get onside all of the people around the player, even those in the club, we are a club with resources but that are limited compared to others; monetary decisions; decisions from the player. Harvey Barnes, in this room, said to me “I’ll see you on Monday”. That was the first year, when he was at Leicester and went on loan to West Brom, he got it wrong [that he would see Orta on Monday] because he turned up at West Brom! And you think, that’s football!
These things happen, but signing a player is so complicated as you have to join so many pieces together. There comes a moment in which you feel frustrated as you have sorted all the things under your control but the other half of things are not. For example, another club gets involved, a family member doesn’t want to live in a certain city, these things are all legitimate reasons but they make you always in a state of tension because the whole agreement can break down over a tiny detail. At the end of the day we are talking about real people.
Q: I worked 5 years in the Mexican 2nd division. We signed players blind, with very little resources. People would come to us to offer players and it was a lottery. So many things go into it: being married, being single, having kids, etc. How do you minimise the personal risks that might factor into signing a player?
You can’t. The day someone says you can, he’s lying. I heard one day from a sporting director, he isn’t in work now, that he said he was the best as psychological recruitment — oh my god! Give me the formula!
You spoke about minimising risk. For me, the analysis of signing a player has 4 points: Technical/tactical analysis: what is the difference from now to back when I started with Monchi? What we wanted to do back then was be the first, be innovative. There was actually a time in the past where you couldn’t watch every match on TV.
I’ll give you an example where my team was vindicated by the signing. Ramon Vázquez, Miguel Ángel Gómez, we worked with Monchi and learnt so much. It was the South Americans under 20s and 2 months before in Paraguay they had a 6 team under 20 friendly tournament. Nobody went to the friendly tournament and everyone went to the competitive one. We went to the friendly one, it was great. We found [Federico] Fazio, [Diego] Perotti, it was great.
It’s changed now. The information is free, democratic. A 16-year-old kid scores a goal in the Dutch second division and it is on Twitter in a minute, two minutes. It’s like a torrential rain of information. So what’s our objective? Our challenge? To transform the information in useful knowledge for the club; to be like a gigantic sieve. Technical/tactical level? You can now access 6,000 minutes on Wyscout, Instat: if you want all touches with his left foot in this zone of the pitch, you can filter zones, positive or negative actions, it’s crazy. Physical!
In fact, there’s a new tool that is doing a bit of a mini revolution called SkillCorner, through biographic analysis, with 15 games of more than 45 minutes, it reduces the margin of error of a player’s physicality calculation by 2.55%. You don’t need the GPS to know the physical output of a player, obviously, you can’t do a physical preparation calculation with this data, because there is a margin of error but for a scout this is magnificent. Because you take the French league and get the wingers with the best physical data and it gives you the top 10 clearly with real data, it’s not generating a pattern like, how much does Leeds United run? What’s the average for league? We set the filter and you pass or not. To pass that test for Leeds is complicated, by the way!
And then you get the two complicated parts: one related with football and I call it transition. You discover a player that is performing in a country, the north or the south of that country, in another country, with another playing style with other teammates for another manager.
I’ll give you an example of Robin Koch: in 3 years, we saw 6 or 7 moments of Koch running back towards goal to defend. Why? Because Freiburg defended deep, not like us who defend with a high line. Marcelo said to me: “Will this player run back to defend?” In 3 years, we saw 6 situations, one of them was very good against Stuttgart, we didn’t have 40 moments. The first game comes against Liverpool and I see him against Mané [puts head in hands], oh my god, here we go… Koch beat him. He beat him. But, of course, there was a lack of certainty with it.
It’s the same when people talk about Monchi. He says to me “ we need an 8”. I make a list, 1, 2, 3. He does his analysis based on the list and says “number one is the best” — I was so happy. “But number 3 is the best for Sevilla.” What? You said number one was the best! Yes, but number 3 is the best for Sevilla. And he was always right. That’s ‘the transition’.
We have objective models with data to identify players and now we go to the psychology, there is nothing you can do, they are people. You have to take on the fact of making a mistake. I hate success medals. I have plenty of horrible transfers in my wardrobe. The YouTube comments from Valladolid fans will be going off now: this guy brought in [Marcelo] Broli, a disaster! [Jose] Curbelo, [José] Mosquera! [Paweł] Cibicki will be somewhere in there. A full drawer of failures. But I don’t like rewards for getting them right either.
The fans always give me a massive medal for signing Ben White, right? He’s been sold now for a good amount of money. We brought him in after having played very well on loan in League Two with Newport, an OK year at Peterborough in League One. He came here and in my opinion, he was the best player in the Championship in the year he was with us. The best player in the league that year and he’s just gone now for £50 million.
White’s first game was Bristol since Berardi got sent off in the semi-final the season before. He hadn’t played a lot because of pre-season, we were in Australia and other things. It was a transition: Cooper gives it to Kiko, Kiko gives it to Cooper and gives it to [White] and, with his tendencies and good ball control, which was one of the skills that we had detected, he controls it but he takes a bit of a big touch. The ball is there and Diédhiou is close, it’s a question of a split-second moment, White connects with the ball, gets past Famara Diédhiou, switches play to Harrison who gives it to Bamford and we nearly score. 5,000 Leeds guys behind go crazy cheering. He got confidence from it — that was minute two, he was the best player that day.
The next game, against Nottingham Forest with a full home crowd, the first ball he touches, the crowd cheers. I’m sure that if in that first moment Famara Diédhiou touches the ball, red card, maybe, penalty, goal and we lose 1–0. Social media: we got rid of Jansson for White! That first touch against Forest here would have been met with murmuring, because here the fans don’t whistle, they murmur, which is worse. God knows how the kid would’ve reacted to that. That’s the psychological part. They give me a medal for that? No [shakes head]. There are no people for that. It’s all part of the process.
It’s nothing more than human situations. We’re talking about people, their lives can change in a second. So, talking about minimising this psychological risk. Of course, we do a report on their psychology, we look at the player as a substitute or starter, winning and losing, against a big team and against a small team. You call colleagues, you call managers, but with that ex-manager, if things went well with the player then he’s great, if it didn’t go well then he’s bad — which is logical! I’m not the same person I was when I was 18 to now that I’m 42. But even as well it can be different with a player when they’re 24 to when they’re 28.
A single moment can distort things or the other way around. So you have to accept the physiological analysis and the psychological error as part of the process. And I’m sure that if Ben White had made that error in the first game his time at Elland Road wouldn’t have been the same as it turned out to be. Therefore, it’s neither medals nor failures; you can inform yourself, of course, but you have to take is as part of the risk in signing players. The fans, who are really the ones who feed all of this, should take it on in the same way.
How many times have we heard this about a player? Look at Arouna Koné at Sevilla, in 4 years the poor guy scored 2 goals, he goes to Levante and nearly gets them to the Champions League! He scores against us and that puts us out of the Europa League. I cross [José María] Del Nido [the then-Sevilla FC President] in the corridor and I wanted to jump out of the window! He scored 14 goals but then he made a career for himself: Wigan, Everton, etc. For Sevilla it just didn’t work with us, he goes to Levante and he nearly gets them in the Champions League! Levante! The Champions League! So you have to stop explaining things sometimes and just accept it as a reason why we love this sport.
Q: Would you say your job is more frustrating than any other thing when working towards success? I’m talking about the transfer market above all, you mentioned Harvey Barnes, what we saw with Dan James. Do you have a lot of rejections before you find a Raphinha?
Bringing in Raphinha was teamwork! And then the failures are Víctor Orta’s. If you don’t accept that, go and do something else. I’m not complaining at all about it.
With the Raphinha transfer, [the people say] look at the deal, it was all teamwork, the huge line of people behind the deal, etc. The long line of people behind the Paweł Cibicki deal? Just me, representing my group. But nobody has to dramatize that. It’s all part of the job. Just in the same way the job has a lot of positive things, it has the other side of that, too.
If you don’t accept that when something goes right and everyone is praising the team but when it goes wrong it’s only your fault, you just have to accept it and say it’s a part of the job that makes you continue to do what you do. At the end of the day, it is a thing that you either take on board or you decide to go and do something else.
Part IV of this interview will be released tomorrow.
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