Leeds United are on the hunt again, and the leading contender for the job has certainly played with some of the game’s greats.
The Premier League side sacked Jesse Marsch the day after their 1-0 loss to Nottingham Forest, with fan favorite Marcelo Bielsa quickly becoming a suggested replacement.
However, talkSPORT understands that Rayo Vallecano’s manager Andoni Iraola is the favorite for the work of Elland Road.
The Spaniard might not be a household name to many, but his experience in the game suggests he could be a solid appointment.
A former right-back, Iraola spent most of his playing career with LaLiga side Athletic Bilbao after being a product of their youth academy.
He made his senior debut in 2003 and despite being in his early twenties at the time, Iraola was soon making regular appearances for the team.
In 2011, Bilbao welcomed the appointment of Bielsa as their new manager, a move that would cement Iraola’s senior player status.
He captained the team 42 times during the 2011/12 season, including two matches that will live long in his memory.
Lloris injury blow, Man United subject to Qatar interest, Leeds eyes Rayo Vallecano boss
Bilbao were drawn against Manchester United in the Europa League Round of 16, with the first leg being played at Old Trafford.
They won 3-2, before becoming 2-1 winners on their own ground to eliminate the then Premier League champions.
Iraola played every minute of the encounter, as well as the following rounds with Bilbao losing 3-0 in the final against Atletico Madrid.
The defender will spend three more seasons at the club, his last appearance being a 3-1 loss to Barcelona in the 2015 Copa del Rey final.
Iraola played the last campaign of his professional playing career in the United States at star club New York City FC.
In midfield for them were Chelsea legend Frank Lampard and six-time Serie A winner Andrea Pirlo, with Spanish hero David Villa up front.
A poor 2015 campaign saw Arsenal icon Patrick Vieira announced as their new manager for the 2016 season, Iraola’s last as a player.
He made a total of 40 appearances for them before announcing his retirement in November of that year.
Just a year and a half later, Iraola would return to football, but this time in a managerial role, taking the job for Cypriot side AEK Larnaca.
He spent just under seven months there, however, before taking Spanish second division side Mirandes to the Copa del Rey semi-finals.
Rayo Vallecano was his next step in 2020, a club where he shone to make him a possible candidate for the Leeds job.
He earned their promotion to La Liga via the play-offs in his debut season and again reached the Copa del Rey semi-finals the following year.
Vallecano currently sit fifth in La Liga and are just three points behind the top four.
It’s a remarkable achievement for the club, and La Liga presenter Phil Kitromilides echoed such an impressive feat.
Speaking on talkSPORT Breakfast, he said: “What he did with a very, very small club in Spain with a big budget, I was going to say shoestring budget, I don’t even think he even a small budget, he has absolutely no money.
“He got them fifth in La Liga, three points off the Champions League places, last season he took them to the Copa del Rey semi-finals.
“The year before he also took a small second division team called Mirandes from a town of 30,000 to the Copa del Rey semi-finals.
“He improved this Rayo Vallecano team which is a limited team in terms of big names, in terms of quality.
“He’s improved players individually and he’s made them play an incredible brand of football, so he’s a really, really strong candidate and you can see why Leeds are watching him. It’s not just Leeds, it’s been interest in the past.
With Leeds in a precarious position of 17th in the Premier League, hiring a promising manager like Iraola could be a huge risk.
However, given his achievements in such a short time with two different clubs, he could be a breath of fresh air for a side flirting with Championship football.
talkSPORT BET DEAL OF THE DAY
Get up to €40 free bets* – CLAIM HERE
18+ New customers only. Sign up, bet up to £40 (min. £20) on selected events at odds of 2.00+, in 7 days. Get up to €40 free bets on selected events. Bonuses expire in 7 days. Card payments only. Terms and conditions apply, see below. begambleaware.org | Please play responsibly
SEE ALL FREE BETS HERE