Victor Orta, who recently returned to Sevilla after eight years in England where he served as director of football for Leeds and Middlesbrough, has been pondering the ongoing debate. Having heard the arguments numerous times, his mind couldn’t help but 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 idea to have a match between the Premier League champions and the La Liga champions. The second place teams in each league would also face off, followed by the third place teams and newly promoted teams playing against each other. There is even a possibility of playing in the US. Points would be awarded with three for a win, two for a win on penalties, and one for a loss. The proposal was met with a smile from the speaker. Another option would be for Arsenal and Sevilla to play each other in a home and away match. The current score is 2-1 in favor of the Premier League from their previous match at Sánchez-Pizjuán two weeks ago. Their next match will take place at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night.”
Orta discusses the playful nature of his first trip back to an English ground, offering a serious analysis of the lessons learned and taken across borders. While acknowledging the Premier League’s power and the potential for it to become a de facto super league, Spain also presents an alternative interpretation through the success of Spanish teams in European competitions. Since 2000, Spanish teams have won 36 European trophies, while England has only won 16. In the last 58 knockout or one-off meetings between Spanish and English teams, Spanish teams have prevailed 39 times. Orta also notes the disparity in revenue distribution between La Liga and the Premier League, with La Liga taking steps to reduce this gap and encourage sustainability. In contrast, the Premier League has had fairer distribution for 30 years, leading to stronger clubs.
“England has failed to adequately adhere to their own financial fair play regulations. The rule states that a team cannot report a loss of more than £105m in a year. However, an owner can still lose significant amounts such as £40m, £50m, £60m, £70m, or £80m in a single season, which is not considered fair. It’s possible that my circumstances would have been different if Everton had received the proposed points deduction last season, when Leeds finished just five points behind and were ultimately relegated. The Premier League must take their rules seriously.”
Money is an important factor, but football players are still drawn to playing in La Liga. Orta confesses that he was surprised by this. “Dodi Lukebakio received a tempting offer from the Premier League, but he waited until the final week of the transfer window for us to fulfill Spanish FFP regulations and sign him,” Orta explains. “Other players didn’t wait and went to the Premier League, which is true. However, Sevilla is still able to attract talent because it’s a combination of finances, project, quality of life, and European competition.”
Orta has taken on the responsibility of replacing his former supervisor, Monchi, who went to Aston Villa. He compares his new role to taking over for Michael Jordan at the Chicago Bulls, but hopes to avoid a similar outcome as Brent Barry, who only lasted one season.
“Monchi was my mentor who I have learned a lot from and we have collaborated on many projects. He holds a special place in my life and has had a significant influence on me. However, I also have my own unique ideas and experiences from my time in both English and Spanish football. We often exchange ideas and he has even asked me about loyalty bonuses, which are common in England but not in Spain. Our conversations also touch on the differences in playing styles and academy structures between the two countries. I am certain that he takes pleasure in seeing Sevilla succeed and I am happy for Aston Villa. Although they were once opponents, I have close friends there such as Monchi, Unai [Emery], and Damian [Vidagany], and I always want to see them thrive.”
One noticeable change is in terms of physicality. It’s interesting to observe the influence of Spanish coaches and styles in England, but they have adapted to a more “English” approach that prioritizes physicality. Now that I am back in Spain, I can see this trend clearly. Jude Bellingham, for example, is making a significant impact because of his talent and athleticism. This has made me realize that recruiting players should not only focus on their skills, but also their physical abilities. The growth of Sevilla has been remarkable. When I left, there were 125 staff members, but now there are over 400. I can see that there are more modern facilities in place.
Behind him, there is a cabinet that holds their seven Europa League trophies, which serve as the foundation of their identity. However, Orta confesses, “One of my concerns was that we had reached our maximum potential with all these cups. I was truly afraid. I thought, ‘Maybe the Europa League is as far as we can go.’ But after spending a few months here, I believe we can shatter that barrier.”
Possibly not in the current year – it is expected that Sevilla will once again be eliminated in the group stage of the Champions League, returning to the competition where they have had success – but their manager hopes for better results in the near future. The increase of Champions League qualifiers from La Liga to five teams is a positive development. And after that? “We have yet to make it past the quarter-finals, but why not aim for a semi-final? Inter is a good example: they made it to the final last year with a similar team that Sevilla defeated in the Europa League final three years ago. Having unrealistic goals is not beneficial, but being too conservative is also not good. I am now confident that we can reach the next level.”
Orta acknowledges that it would be beneficial for the team to have a manager who stays for a longer period of time. Last season, they had three different coaches and José Luis Mendilibar was the last one to arrive during a critical moment. He not only saved them from relegation, but also led them to another Europa League final victory. However, due to Sevilla’s obligation to retain him, he was only temporarily appointed as the manager and was let go after just nine games into this season.
In a surprising move, Diego Alonso from Uruguay was appointed as the new coach in October. Despite only having two games under his belt, with a draw against Real Madrid and a loss against Arsenal, Alonso’s personal touch was evident. Victor Orta, the director of football, acknowledges that in the football industry, it is common to blame the coach when things go wrong. However, he also recognizes that it is not fair as there are multiple factors at play such as players, management, and coaching staff. Despite this, changing the coach is often seen as the only solution to bring about change. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. For the future and stability of the club, Orta hopes that Alonso can bring success and stay for at least three to four seasons. Otherwise, it will be difficult for the club to progress without stability in the coaching position.
I first encountered him in November 2011 at a barbeque in Montevideo while he was playing for Peñarol. I was extremely impressed by his coaching abilities, even at that early stage. I thought to myself, “Wow, this person is something special.” It was captivating, almost like a calling for me to follow him. He had successful stints in Paraguay and Mexico, but perhaps not as much in MLS with Miami. However, if he had the current Miami team, I believe he would win the league. It’s interesting how some may label him as a “failure” due to his performance with Uruguay in the World Cup, but I see him as a “success” for qualifying when they were on the brink of elimination.
“I also did this with Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds. Many thought it was a foolish decision to bring him to the Championship. However, my daring choice yielded positive outcomes. I hope this bold decision will have the same effect.”
Regarding Bielsa, Orta expresses, “Working with him has been incredibly beneficial for me. He pushes you to improve and that is not intimidating, it’s how you develop. If Bielsa were my editor, I might consider changing newspapers but he has a way of helping you discover and exceed your potential – whether you are a player, groundskeeper, CEO, or cook. It’s a significant challenge that some may shy away from, but I prefer it.”
Although the enthusiasm with which Orta speaks is contagious, the stress is inevitable. Can you still find enjoyment in it? He chuckles and responds, “That’s an excellent question. Honestly, it can be difficult. I’ve been involved 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 cross your mind. Will [Youssef] En-Nesyri be in the right mindset to score today? Will Lukebakio be focused on his wife who is about to give birth? You are entrusting your future to someone else’s hands.”
A friend of mine named Emilio reminded me to appreciate the present moment while I am at home. He encouraged me to bask in the warm November weather, relish in good food, take my son to school, and watch football. However, he also pointed out that we tend to focus on the negative aspects and overlook the positive ones in both football and life. We often can’t fully enjoy our successes because we are already thinking about the challenges ahead. It is important to savor the present and not constantly dwell on the future. As individuals fortunate enough to work in football and travel the world, we should not let ourselves be constantly consumed by negative emotions. Therefore, my motto for this year is to embrace and enjoy the journey.
Orta stops and chuckles. “Though it is true, some days are more challenging than others.”