Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds ‘spying’ on Derby is being blown out of proportion – spare us the sanctimony

  • Leeds manager ‘accepts responsibility’ for sending employee to covertly watch Derby training session
  • Vitriol coming from Frank Lampard and English media is hypocritical, though
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 January, 2019, 6:41pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 January, 2019, 6:41pm

Marcelo Bielsa may have been caught “spying” on Derby ahead of Friday night’s big Championship clash, but please spare us the sanctimonious preaching.

Derbyshire police were forced to intervene on Thursday when a Leeds employee sent by Bielsa was caught outside Derby’s training ground watching a training session

Bielsa fronted up on camera to Sky Sports before the match and said he “accepts full responsibility”, and spoke to Rams boss Frank Lampard over the phone, but that hasn’t stopped the English football media from piling in.

The Leeds manager “showed a complete lack of class” said the Daily Telegraph’s Henry Winter, who called on the English FA to act.

But as former Manchester United and England star Gary Neville weighed in on Twitter in response to Winter, the media outcry is a bit hypocritical.

“Surely sending spies daily to climb fences/hide in bathrooms with windows overlooking the training pitch to watch England sessions and disclosing your own country’s team and tactics would be worse,” Neville wrote.

Indeed, Winter and Co fell over themselves last summer to defend the Daily Mail leaking Gareth Southgate’s planned line-up for the game against Panama, after a cameraman used a long lens to get a shot of assistant coach Steve Holland’s notebook at an open training session.

“We’re not cheerleaders for the team,” was the prevailing sentiment of the English press pack, despite having violated Southgate’s trust.

But when a foreign manager from Argentina does it, and not an English photographer, suddenly it’s contemptible behaviour.

“I can’t agree with it but I admire him [Bielsa] for fronting up and also stating he’s always done it. In Spain for example it’s quite normal,” added Neville, who briefly coached at Valencia.

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino also said it was “not a big deal”. “It’s nothing wrong with finding information about what the opponent is doing,” he added. “Thirty years ago it happened in Argentina. Not only Marcelo, all the managers. When I was 17, 18, 19-years-old all the managers like [Carlos] Bilardo or many, many others used to send people to watch training sessions. Here it’s a bit weird, but it happened in Argentina.”

It’s perhaps even more hypocritical for Lampard to moan about it, however.

“Spygate” aside, Derby could have no excuses and were outclassed by Leeds, with goals from Kemar Roofe and Jack Harrison giving the Championship leaders a 2-0 victory.

“I don’t think it’s right, I can’t see how anyone who plays sport thinks it right,” Lampard told Sky Sports. “I don’t see why you would do it if you did not think you were going to get a sporting advantage.

“I’ve always admired Bielsa from afar, his innovative methods, I’ve got his book at home, but when I find something out like this, if this is what he feels it takes, that’s not for me

“When you come in with tools, pliers and boltcutters to break into private property, to crawl on your hands and knees to spy on a training session, it goes beyond what is right I believe.

“If we’re going to start talking about ‘culturally, I did it somewhere else’ – that doesn’t work for me. If I’m lucky enough to do well and travel to another country, I’ll find out what the etiquette is in that country and abide by that. It’s disrupted our build-up to this game.”

Ah yes, the C-word. It must have been “cultural” when Andre Villas-Boas used to compile dossiers when he was an assistant for Jose Mourinho as part of Chelsea’s pre-match preparations, including one against Newcastle in 2005 which contained 24 graphics.

“My work enables Jose to know exactly when a player from the opposition team is likely to be at his best or his weakest,” the Portuguese said.

“I will travel to training grounds, often incognito, and look at our opponents’ mental and physical state before drawing my conclusions. Jose will leave nothing to chance.”

And who was playing in Chelsea’s midfield for that Newcastle game? None other than Lampard.

“Spying” on opposition teams is hardly new, either. As German football expert Raphael Honigstein pointed out on Twitter, Bundesliga side Hoffenheim caught a Werder Bremen scout spying on their training with a drone.

“I’m not really angry at the analyst doing his job,” Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann said. “It’s commendable if they’re doing everything they can, trying to spy on the opposition.”

Bielsa said he could explain his behaviour but couldn’t justify it because he has to respect the norms in the country he works in.

“I’ve done this practice many times,” he told Sky Sports. “I started when I was trying to qualify for the World Cup with Argentina and Chile. It’s something legal in South America, when this goes public it does not provoke the same sense of indignation that it does in England.

“If you watch a training session from a public space it’s not illegal, you cannot involve the police. It does not generate the indignation it does in this country.

“I don’t feel as though I’m someone who has cheated for one main reason, first of all I didn’t get any advantage from this situation, no added advantage from watching the training session. It’s just an additional source of information.

“Frank Lampard told me I have violated the fair play rules, I understand it. But I didn’t call him to apologise, I contacted him to say I was responsible. He was direct in his answer and I respect that. I do not feel as though I’m a person who has cheated.”

Maybe the media is just upset because their golden boy Lampard got wronged in their eyes by a nasty, non-English-speaking Johnny Foreigner who the hipsters like, so the pitchforks came out.

Not that Leeds will care one bit about all the vitriol being sent their way, as my Leeds-supporting mate pointed out to me.

“What many forget is Leeds fans absolutely love being hated,” he texted. “The fan base thrives off being the villains and boiling people’s p***.”