‘Spygate’: Did Leeds United cheat or was spying on Derby fair game?
Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani has apologised to his Derby counterpart Mel Morris for the “spygate” row which overshadowed the two clubs' Championship match on Friday night.
Marcelo Bielsa admitted before the game that he had sent a member of his coaching staff to watch a closed training session at Derby's Morley Road training ground on Thursday after the Rams reported a suspicious looking man to police.
The incident has caused a furore, with critics accusing Bielsa and Leeds of, at worst, cheating and, at best, breaking an unspoken sporting code.
Leeds released a statement on Saturday saying the club will “look to work with our head coach and his staff to remind them of the integrity and honesty which are the foundations that Leeds United is built on”.
What Bielsa says
WATCH: Marcelo Bielsa admits he was behind #LUFC spy-gate and that he has been using similar tactics for year.
Watch live on Sky Sports Football: https://t.co/dLI22fdxp1 pic.twitter.com/MKktATOVnh
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) January 11, 2019
Bielsa seemed nonplussed about the incident when questioned after watching Leeds run out 2-0 winners at Elland Road and says it is a practice he has been using for years.
“Yesterday I talked to Frank Lampard and he told me I didn't respect the fair play rules,” the Argentine told Sky Sports.
Read more: If Leeds United continue this form their Championship rivals will soon need binoculars
“I have a different point of view but the important thing is what Frank Lampard and Derby County think. I didn't ask permission from Leeds United to do it so it's my responsibility.
“Without trying to find a justification, I've been using this kind of practice since the qualifications for the World Cup with Argentina [in 2002].
“It's not unlawful, it's not illegal. We've been doing it publicly and we talk about it in the press. For some people it's the wrong thing to do, and for others it's not.”
What Lampard says
"I don't care if it is cultural. I am not buying it."
Frank Lampard responds to Marcelo Bielsa admitting to sending a spy to Derby training.
Watch live on Sky Sports Football: https://t.co/dLI22fdxp1 pic.twitter.com/qsdQ5tQ9C1
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) January 11, 2019
Lampard, who gave Bielsa a very frosty looking handshake before the match, was still clearly upset about the incident afterwards.
“At least, on a sportsman's level, it's bad in my opinion,” he told Sky Sports.
“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. People are going to say I'm trying to make an excuse – but I'm going to speak like this after the game win, lose or draw.”
In Bielsa's defence
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, who played for Bielsa at Newell's Old Boys in Argentina, said the incident was “not a big deal”.
“There is nothing wrong to try and find information and know a bit more about what the opponents are doing,” Pochettino said. “That happened 30 years ago in Argentina. Not only Marcelo, all the managers were like this.”
This December, Hoffenheim caught a Werder Bremen scout spying on their training with a drone. Werder apologised. Hoffe coach Nagelsmann: "I'm not really angry at the analyst doing his job. It's commendable if they're doing everything they can, trying to spy on the opposition."
— Raphael Honigstein (@honigstein) January 12, 2019
“This isn’t MI6. It's football. He hasn’t broken any law or rule unless he’s trespassing on private land,” said former Abderdeen goalkeeper and i contributor David Preece.
“If it’s true, he’s going to extreme lengths to gain a tiny advantage. It happens more than you think. Why wouldn’t you do it if you could?”
No point blaming that on Spygate. Mullered from start to finish by one of the best performances we've seen under Bielsa. Clarke fantastic, Forshaw never played better for Leeds. Bueno. #lufc
— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) January 11, 2019
Former Stoke forward Jonathan Walters added: “Fair play to Bielsa for not trying to hide what he’s done. I know of worse that has happened for and against! Let’s not pretend it doesn’t go on!”
Can’t help but think people are getting slightly carried away with Bielsa sending somebody to watch an opponents training session. It’s been happening for years. While I accept it’s morally wrong, it’s hardly a criminal offence.
— michael owen (@themichaelowen) January 12, 2019
Gary Neville struck a similar tone, saying: “I can’t agree with it but I admire him for fronting up and also stating he’s always done it. In Spain for example it’s quite normal.”
The former Manchester United and England defender also hit out at journalists criticising Bielsa's methods, pointing out that the press have regularly “spied” on club and national team training in order to get information on tactics and lineups, most notably at the 2018 World Cup.
“Marcelo Bielsa is a great coach, with many disciples amongst modern managers, but sending spies to opposition training shows a complete lack of respect for his peers,” said Times journalist Henry Winter.
“You might think he's cool or that he's a great character etc, but if it transpires that Bielsa employed somebody to spy on Derby County's training then he's also a cheat,” wrote the Telegraph‘s Matt Law.
“It's disgusting,” said former Spurs and Newcastle midfielder Jermaine Jenas. “I'm massively shocked. No remorse whatsoever shown. If he's done it to Derby and he's admitting it then he's probably done it every weekend this season. It's cheating, isn't it?”
“The Leeds spy presumably didn’t break the law (otherwise police wouldn’t have let him go). Also hard to see what the FA can do,” wrote the Mirror's John Cross. “But aren’t the values of sportsmanship worth anything? Staggered by people trying to excuse this.”
Have your say
Well, what do you think? Did Bielsa and Leeds cross the line, or is “spying” on your opponents' training sessions fair game in the cut-throat world of professional sport?
We'd like to hear from you. Get in touch on Twitter @iPaperSport, on Facebook @iPaperSport or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know your views.
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