Victor Orta is currently amid his sixth season as Leeds United’s Director of Football, and this season has been his toughest despite the campaign not even reaching the halfway mark. The Leeds fans have been ever demanding as usual, with chants of “sack the board” ringing out across Elland Road when things haven’t been going the side’s way.
It’s a cruel reality, but if you want to compete at the highest level, you need to spend big and you need to spend wisely. At the helm of this is Orta himself, who, as Director of Football, has the most power when it comes to player arrivals and departures at the club. Therefore, he is often the victim of heavy criticism and has faced backlash when responding to it, going as far as to shush the crowd and mock their chants towards him.
Overall, this board has seen the club return to the premier league and stay there for three successive seasons, but was this due to the transfers they made? This article will rank each season’s transfer activity from worst to best, covering failures that you may have forgotten to the household names that the fans associate with some of the club’s best moments in recent years.
#6 – 19/20 Season:
The season that Leeds got promoted saw them let go a plethora of solid players that were a part of the side that lost to Derby in the playoffs the year prior. Out went fan favourite centre-back Pontus Jansson to promotion rivals Brentford and striker Kemar Roofe to Anderlecht. Bailey Peacock-Farrell and Samu Saiz had fallen out of favour under Bielsa and too were sold. Young star Jack Clarke was sold to Tottenham for just under £10 million, which, given Clarke’s career trajectory since, was a good bit of business.
Leeds only spent £290k upfront this season, instead opting for loan-to-buys if the team achieved promotion. Ben White and Illan Meslier were uncovered gems, but the positives stop there. Ben White’s loan didn’t result in a permanent move, Eddie Nketiah was recalled by Arsenal in January, Helder Costa’s 4 goals and 4 assists are not the stats of a winger that would cost Leeds £15 million next season and Jean-Kevin Augustin…well we all know how that went.
#5 – 21/22 Season:
Daniel James was a player that fit Marcelo Bielsa’s tactics like a glove, which lead to Leeds overpaying for his services, paying Manchester United £25 million for a player that now isn’t at the club a year later. Junior Firpo hasn’t adjusted to life in the Premier League well as, despite costing the club £12.8 million, Jesse Marsch has reduced him to a bench role. Finally, Jack Harrison signed permanently for £11 million despite already playing over 100 times for the whites, so this didn’t feel like a new signing.
As for sales, Leeds sold no one for a monetary fee but did let go of Pablo Hernandez, Gaetano Berardi and Ezgjan Alioski at the culmination of their contracts, the latter of which Leeds arguably hasn’t been able to replace at left-back.
#4 – 17/18 Season:
Orta’s first season at Leeds saw a fundamentally solid year in terms of transfers. The main sale saw Chris Wood leave for Premier League side Burnley for around £15 million. This allowed Leeds to make a lot of signings, most notably making Pontus Jansson’s loan deal permanent for under £4 million and signing Adam Forshaw in January, who was playing Premier League football the season prior for £4.5 million.
There were a few dud signings such as Laurens De Bock, Hadi Sacko and Jay-Roy Grot, but, arguably, the most important deals saw Mateusz Klich and Ezgjan Alioski come to Elland Road. These two ultimately played a key role in the promotion season and the first season back in the Premier League under Bielsa and are much loved by the fans.
#3 – 22/23 Season (so far):
The most recent transfer window saw Leeds boast a net profit, despite avoiding relegation on the last day of the season. This is mainly due to the sales of star players Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha for a combined total of up to £105 million. In came players that fit Jesse Marsch’s system, most notably Brenden Aaronson, a tricky number 10 who has wowed fans at Elland Road since his £25 million switch from RB Salzburg.
The main criticism of this season though isn’t about who Leeds has bought, it’s more about who they haven’t. Gaping holes have been left in the left-back and striker positions, although the 7 goals from Rodrigo and the signing of young Italian forward Wilfried Gnonto have left Elland Road hopeful that the striker position for the future is in safe hands.
#2 – 18/19 Season:
Arguably, the most important signing in the 18/19 season wasn’t a player. It was a manager. Orta may have been called crazy for going after Bielsa, but the rewards were fruitful. In terms of player additions, it was a quiet year for Leeds, as Bielsa made use of what he had.
Leeds did make use of the £6.2 million gained from the Ronaldo Viera sale and signed left-back Barry Douglas, who was instrumental in Wolves’ championship-winning season the year prior, for £3 million, although his time at the club was plagued with injuries. As well as that, Patrick Bamford was signed for £7 million from Middlesborough. Bamford’s time at the club has been tumultuous, to say the least, but you can’t knock the sheer effort he brings when he’s on the pitch.
#1 – 20/21 Season:
Upon promotion, Leeds needed to improve their squad, and improve their squad they did. Plenty of excitement surrounded the club as Leeds now associated themselves with Spanish, German and Brazilian internationals. Raphinha for £16 million is arguably Orta’s best deal. Record signing, £27 million, Rodrigo started life at Leeds slowly but has 7 goals and 1 assist to his name in the first half of this season. Centre-back Robin Koch takes a similar trajectory, as his time at Leeds has been halted by injuries and position changes, and finally, young Joe Gelhardt was signed for under £1 million and has the potential to start up front for England.
There were a few blips. Diego Llorente has shown only brief glimpses of a Spanish international and the aforementioned Costa and Augustin deals, but in a season where Leeds needed to make good transfers, Orta and co pulled out arguably the best windows in their tenure.