Spygate. It’s been a bit of a story over the last week or two and it continues to rumble on with fans, clubs, the media, in fact anyone you care to mention seemingly divided over what it means and whether or not Leeds should face some sort of sanction after Marcelo Bielsa admitted sending “spies” to covertly watch all of Leeds’ opponents training.
Depending on who you talk to depends on the answer you get as to whether Leeds have gained any sort of advantage or not.
When asked about it by the EDP at last Thursday’s pre-Birmingham presser, Daniel Farke played it with a straight bat and played down the type of advantage that could be gained.
“With this situation I will speak about quality, style and class. We are a club full of quality and full of class,” said Farke., “Everyone is responsible how he prepares his team for the challenge. We all have different ways and different styles.
“In general, I just can say we as a club don’t send any spies out and if there is a session behind closed doors we respect that.
“That is our way. If a club or a head coach does it in a different way that is for others to judge. If there is a spy around to be honest I am not so sure they would realise what is happening.
“If you are watching from a bridge 200 metres away you can probably tell the difference between Grant Hanley and Emi Buendia.
“I am full of respect for the career of Marcelo Bielsa. The way they are playing is a big credit to him. Maybe 10 years ago it was the case that one day before a game there was a tactical session when you play your starting line-up.
“Nowadays I don’t think there are any secret set-pieces or whatever.
“Maybe you can see if the players are in a good mood or the coach stays indoors at the training ground but there is only so much you can find out.”
Was he just playing the politician with that answer though? If there is little to be gained from sending a spy then why do it? Senor Bielsa certainly thinks there’s value in the practice and admitted he had had every one of Leeds opponents watched in a press conference last week.
He says he’s done nothing wrong and it isn’t illegal.
However, it seems that eleven Championship clubs think otherwise, including Norwich City.
On Sunday, The Mail reported that the EFL have received a correspondence from eleven clubs with Norwich supposedly “driving” a demand for an investigation into Leeds’ behaviour.
On Friday, Bristol City owner Steve Lansdown called for a points deduction to be ‘seriously considered’ by the EFL, who are quoted by the Mail as saying ‘We have received a communication on behalf of a number of clubs which will be considered as part of the current investigation that has commenced.’
There isn’t a specific rule being broken by this type of action but it seems that “Improper Conduct Rule E3” is what is being looked at.
That seems to cover any number of ‘improper’ things from insulting words or behaviour, racial abuse, verbal sexual abuse, giving a false name to a referee, just about anything that the EFL might seem to be ‘improper’ really.
So is this unusual in British football?
In a 2011 Telegraph interview with Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea’s former “DVD Man”, AVB admitted that while working under Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho he would “travel to training grounds, often incognito” to secretly watch opposition in training to illicit further information.
Bielsa suggested that it is common practice in other countries he has worked in and he can’t see what the problem is. Could it be that the British sense of “right and wrong” is what is upsetting so many people here? A sense of injustice, cheating?
No-one likes a cheat, do they?
What about Leeds themselves though? Was there nobody within the club who might suggest to Bielsa that even if this sort of thing does go on, that you don’t admit it?
Is that the problem for some people, that Bielsa had the balls to just admit it?
It’s a regular thing for clubs to send scouts to watch upcoming opponents and for managers to do this too. How often do you see a manager in the crowd on a Sky broadcast game watching an upcoming opponent? It’s a regular thing.
So what might you learn from a training session at some distance, with a pair of binoculars, crouching in the bushes?
Free-kick routines? Players not training that might be injured? I doubt that there’s much in the way of real secrets to be gleaned these days.
For example, Norwich play the same formation every week, no matter the opponent. When everyone is fit we have a starting XI that most City fans could name too. I did it in my article on Friday morning and picked the team spot on. It’s not much of a stretch to think that the opposition might be well aware of these things as well.
I saw Tony Pulis talking on Sky Sports news on Friday and he was asked about spying on opponents and Bielsa’s detailed information that he presented via Power Point in his mid-week press conference in which he made his admissions.
Pulis dismissed it and said he had people that work for ‘Boro who provide every possible piece of information on the opponents as well as his own players. He ended up by saying words to the effect of “if you think that I send my teams out without a plan then you’re kidding yourselves. What Bielsa showed you lot is nothing new.”
So what now?
I’d be surprised if Norwich were “driving” this investigation. More like that they are one of eleven clubs who are concerned about this behaviour and, you’d have to assume, don’t do this type of thing themselves.
If Bielsa is prepared to go to these lengths to gain an advantage, is it surprising that some clubs would like to see Leeds punished in some way, deducted points, maybe?
Will Leeds be deducted any points though? I doubt it very much because that so rarely seems to happen to any club, never mind the outrage that Leeds would spout if it did occur.
I reckon that if they are found guilty of breaching rule E3 that the punishment would be only a fine and a small one at that.
The EFL would probably fear legal action from Leeds and I imagine they wouldn’t fancy the prospect of a season ending and litigation still pending months later.
What if Leeds didn’t get promoted automatically because of a docked point or two and then fluffed it in the play-offs?
As amusing as that might be, it would be a nightmare for the EFL.
A storm in a tea cup, I reckon. What it will do though is to make the upcoming game between City and Leeds a feisty affair. I’ve already seen quite a few tweets from Leeds fans promising those of a Canary persuasion that “they won’t know what’s hit them” when we head to Elland Road in two weeks’ time.
If you’re going, best keep your wits about you.
It’ll be interesting to see how this all pans out in the coming weeks but my own opinion is that there is very little to be gained and I doubt it will effect much. Leeds are a very good side who play high tempo attacking football, much like ourselves.
Good football teams win more games than bad football teams, it’s as simple as that, the advantage of having a man in a bush with a pair of binos, doesn’t strike me as being huge.
If you've got what it takes! Search Leeds United Coaching Staff Jobs????️♂️ pic.twitter.com/Y0BxoYJhbC
— Soccer AM (@SoccerAM) January 19, 2019