Victor Orta, who previously served as a football director for Leeds and Middlesbrough, has an idea. After spending eight years in England, he returned to Sevilla this summer. He has been a part of many discussions and heard numerous arguments on the topic, causing his mind to wander.
Now, he reckons, he might have come up with a way of settling it, until next season at least. To have a lot of fun trying, at least. He has barely sat down when he throws it out there, a hint of mischief. “What’s better? La Liga or the Premier League?” he says. “How about something like a Ryder Cup of football to find out?
During the summer, there is a proposed plan to have the champions of the Premier League face off against the champions of La Liga, followed by the second place teams, and so on. The idea is to also potentially have matches in the United States. Points would be awarded based on a win (3 points), a win through penalties (2 points), or a loss (1 point). This suggestion is accompanied by a smile from the person proposing it. Another option could be to have Arsenal play against Sevilla in both home and away matches. As of now, the Premier League is leading with a score of 2-1 from their previous match at Sánchez-Pizjuán two weeks ago. The next match will take place at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night.
In addition to his lightheartedness, Orta also offers a thoughtful examination ahead of his first return to an English stadium. He discusses the lessons learned and applied across borders, as Spain acknowledges the power of the Premier League and the potential for it to become a de facto super league. However, while Arsenal may have appeared dominant, Spanish teams have actually fared well in European competitions, with 36 trophy winners since 2000 compared to England’s 16. In the past 58 knockout or one-off matches between Spanish and English teams, the Spanish teams have come out victorious 39 times. “The Premier League began distributing money more equitably much earlier. It has improved now, but in the first four TV deals, La Liga was unfairly treated – Sevilla was the first to point this out. La Liga is increasing revenue, narrowing the gap, and implementing break-even budgets to promote sustainability. In contrast, England has had 30 years of fairer distribution, resulting in stronger clubs.”
England has not abided by their financial fair play regulations, as they have allowed owners to report significant losses each year. The stated rule is that a loss of more than £105m annually is not permitted. However, some owners are able to absorb losses of up to £40m, £50m, £60m, £70m, or even £80m per season, which is deemed unfair. The outcome of my career may have been different if the Premier League had applied Everton’s proposed points deduction last season, as Leeds finished only five points behind and were relegated. The Premier League must enforce its rules strictly.
“I was surprised by the fact that, despite money being a key factor, footballers still prefer to play in La Liga,” Orta confesses. “For example, Dodi Lukebakio received a very tempting offer from the Premier League but chose to wait until the final week of the transfer window to allow us to follow the Spanish FFP rules and sign him. Some others did not wait and instead moved to the Premier League, which is true. However, Sevilla is still able to attract talented players because of a combination of factors such as money, project, quality of life, and European competition.”
It is now Orta’s responsibility as he has come back to take the place of his ex-superior, Monchi, who went the opposite way to Aston Villa. Orta compares his arrival to taking over from Michael Jordan at the Chicago Bulls, where a previous player, Brent Barry, only stayed for a year and it was not successful. Orta hopes to avoid having a similar season to Barry’s.
Monchi served as my mentor and we collaborated on various projects. He holds a unique influence and I have gained valuable insights from his expertise in both English and Spanish football. While we frequently exchange ideas, I also have my own perspectives and experiences. For instance, we recently discussed the concept of loyalty bonuses, which are common in England but not in Spain. We also share thoughts on the differences in playing styles and academy structures. I am certain that Monchi takes pleasure in witnessing Sevilla’s success and I am equally delighted for Aston Villa. Although they were once rivals, I have personal connections with individuals such as Monchi, Unai, and Damian, and I always wish for the best for my friends.
One of the noticeable changes is in terms of physicality. It is interesting to observe the influence of Spanish coaches and tactics in England, however, they have adapted and the trend is now shifting towards a more “English” style that prioritizes physicality. Having returned to Spain, I can see this clearly. A prime example of this is Jude Bellingham, who is making a significant impact due to his talent and athleticism. This has made me realize that successful recruitment should not only focus on skillful players, but also on those with good physical abilities. The progress of Sevilla is remarkable, as when I left, there were only 125 staff members and now there are over 400. I have also noticed advancements in facilities and modernity.
Sitting behind him in a cabinet are their seven Europa League titles, serving as the foundation of their identity. However, Orta confesses, “One of my concerns was that we had reached our maximum potential – all these trophies. I was genuinely afraid. I thought, ‘Maybe the Europa League is as far as we can go.’ But after a few months here, I believe we can shatter that barrier.”
Perhaps not in the present year, but it is expected that Sevilla will once again face elimination in the group stage of the Champions League. However, they hope to change this soon. The increase of La Liga teams in the Champions League qualifiers to five will be beneficial. After that, what’s next? While Sevilla has not made it past the quarter-finals, why not aim for a semi-final? As shown by Inter’s success last year with a similar team that Sevilla defeated in the Europa League final three years ago, this goal is not unrealistic. It is important to have ambition, but being too conservative can also hinder progress. The speaker is now confident that Sevilla can reach the next level.
Orta acknowledges that it would be beneficial for the team to have a manager stay for a longer period of time. Last season, they had three different coaches and José Luis Mendilibar was the last one. He joined the team during a difficult time and successfully helped them avoid relegation. He also led them to win another Europa League final. However, due to his obligations with Sevilla, his temporary position became permanent and he was let go after only nine games in the current season.
In a surprising move, the Uruguayan Diego Alonso was appointed in October, despite having only managed one game prior to this, a draw against Real Madrid. Victor Orta, the director of football, acknowledges that the common practice in these situations is to fire the coach, but he believes this is not always fair as there are many factors at play. While the players, board, directors, head coach, and staff all play a role, changing the coach is often seen as the only way to bring about change. However, Orta stresses the importance of stability with the coach for the growth of the club. He hopes that Alonso will be able to create a lasting legacy and provide the stability needed for the club’s success over the next few seasons. Without this stability, it will be a challenging task.
“I met him in November 2011 at a barbecue in Montevideo when he was playing at Peñarol. I was so impressed: he spoke like a coach already. I was like: wow. It was fascinating. It was like a tick: hey, I’m going to follow this person. In Paraguay and Mexico, he did well. Not so good in MLS with Miami, maybe. But if he has the current Miami team, he wins the league. It’s funny: people put the word ‘failure’ on him because of Uruguay at the World Cup; I put the word ‘success’ there. He qualified when they were almost [out].
“I took a similar approach with [Marcelo] Bielsa at Leeds. Despite criticism, I brought him to the Championship. My unconventional decision proved successful. I hope this unconventional decision will also yield positive outcomes.”
Regarding Bielsa, Orta expresses his satisfaction with working alongside him, stating that he helps elevate one’s abilities. This does not intimidate Orta, as he believes it is necessary for personal growth. Working with Bielsa encourages individuals to push their boundaries and reach their full potential, including players, staff members, and even the cook. While it may be a daunting task for some, Orta embraces the challenge and finds it more preferable.
Although Orta’s enthusiasm is contagious, the stress is inevitable. Can you still enjoy it? Orta laughs and responds, “That’s an excellent question. To be honest, it can be difficult. I’ve been in football for 19 seasons. I may look young, but I was 25 when I became director of football at Valladolid. There are days when you wake up and silly thoughts enter your mind. Will [Youssef] En-Nesyri be in the right mindset to score today? Will Lukebakio be focused or thinking about his wife giving birth? You entrust your future to someone else.”
“My friend Emilio reminded me to appreciate the present moment while I am at home. He encouraged me to soak in the warmth of the November sun, savor delicious food, take my son to school, and enjoy football. However, he pointed out how we tend to focus on the negatives and let them overshadow the positives in both football and life. We don’t allow ourselves to fully enjoy the experience. Even when we win, we immediately think about the next challenge. Emilio reminded me to live in the moment. We are fortunate to have jobs in the football industry, allowing us to travel the world and watch games. We should not let ourselves be constantly consumed by sadness, frustration, or depression. That’s why my motto for this year is to embrace the journey and find joy in it.”
Orta takes a moment to pause and chuckles. “It’s true that certain days can be more challenging than others.”