Iraola? Slot? nuno? Leeds’ search for March replacement remains up in the air

You can often follow Leeds United recruitment by following Victor Orta performances at the airport. The club’s director of football was in Madrid part of this week and in Amsterdam towards the end to secure the appointment of a new head coach.

He came home empty-handed from the Netherlands and Spain, as Leeds is currently looking for a coach. Appointing someone ahead of Sunday’s game against Manchester United wasn’t a red line in the minds of the hierarchy at Elland Road, but they did foresee further progress in the days following Jesse Marsch’s sacking in the hope that their ducks have since would be in a row, which required formality and not much else.

Orta’s time in Madrid was devoted to courting Andoni Iraola and it was there that this week’s events were shaped. Leeds have tried not to speak in terms of their top pick or a single preferred candidate but had their approach to Iraola gone to plan Rayo Vallecano’s manager would most likely have been named as Marsch’s successor. He was high on Orta’s list of goals, a trainer Orta was keen to invest in.

Leeds believed Iraola wanted the job and nothing in their discussions about him convinced her otherwise. Iraola has tried to be respectful to Rayo Vallecano and their president Martin Presa but he told his club Leeds was an opportunity he wanted to explore and if there was a definitive offer, an opportunity he wanted to seize. However, Rayo Vallecano stood by his release and refused to let him go. Orta has been unable to break the deadlock and those talks have been deadlocked for days.

Iraola’s contract includes a release clause but the process of activating it is not easy or not as easy as Leeds simply pay the required fee to put him out of business. Iraola, whose side are fifth in La Liga making him an increasingly attractive prospect, would effectively have to activate the clause himself, forcing his way out of Rayo Vallecano and facing the club’s refusal to sanction his departure. So far he has not been ready to start this fight. The feeling in Spain is that he wants to leave, but not in a way that reflects badly on him.

Leeds have tried not to assume Iraola may be completely dead. He has shown an obvious pedigree in a short span of time as a manager, guiding CD Mirandes to the Copa del Rey semifinals before winning promotion to La Liga with Rayo Vallecano in 2021, creating a very capable top flight side on a small budget. But Leeds, who diverted on Thursday to explore Feyenoord’s Arne Slot as an option, was a sign of Orta’s attempt to pin Iraola on Wednesday ahead of Orta’s return to England for Leeds’ 2-2 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford , had not succeeded.

Slot, 44, had Feyenoord top of the Dutch Eredivisie table until Friday when AZ Alkmaar were a point ahead of them. Despite reports to the contrary, there is no release clause in his contract at Feyenoord, or one that Leeds can activate here and now. Orta’s trip to the Netherlands suggested that he at least thought Slot would be interested in hearing about the Elland Road vacancy, but Feyenoord was quick to publicly say they would not entertain the idea of ​​Slot with their promising and even-tempered to leave the season. On Friday, Slot seemed to count himself out of the running as well. “It is true that I will stay at Feyenoord,” he said. “I can say that with this one.”

Both targets were more actively involved than Carlos Corberan, another manager linked to the Leeds post. Corberan, the former United Under-23 boss, ended talks of his return by signing a new long-term deal with West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday, a deal that has been on the table for almost a month. Leeds point out that Corberan was never made a concrete offer by them or approached personally by Orta. The message from Corberan’s camp was very similar: although he is most admired by Leeds leader Andrea Radrizzani, a decision to appoint him was never close.

Nuno Espirito Santo has managed Wolves and Tottenham in the Premier League (Picture: Sam Bagnall – AMA/Getty Images)

Finding a new head coach ahead of a critical relegation battle at Everton next weekend was more important for Leeds than finding one ahead of Manchester United at Elland Road on Sunday afternoon. Their squad is in the hands of U21 manager Michael Skubala and Skubala coped well with Wednesday’s draw at Old Trafford. But as the days go by and the freedom to be patient diminishes, other names will come into the frame unless someone like Iraola goes down well. Former Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur manager Nuno Espirito Santo is among those in the conversation. Nuno is currently manager of Al-Ittihad in Saudi Arabia but would be delighted with another Premier League opportunity. No approach has been made for Celtic’s Ange Postecoglou but Leeds are unaware of the Australian’s impact at Parkhead.

At the end of a week with Orta on the air most of the time, the club are nearing the point where they need a breakthrough. Skubala has already received Sunday’s meeting with Manchester United but Leeds would love a scenario where their new head coach, while not quite in the stands, is almost there in spirit. A poker game has developed at Elland Road, where the club waits to see which way the cards will fall.

(Top Photo: George Wood/Getty Images) Iraola? Slot? nuno? Leeds’ search for March replacement remains up in the air

Russell Falcon

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