LISTENING to head coach Marcelo Bielsa explain this week how a fear of his players not being prepared for every eventuality had embroiled Leeds United in ‘Spygate’ brought to mind the greatest manager of them all at Elland Road.
Don Revie, in his 13 years at the helm, built one of the greatest teams English football has seen.
His success, which included two League titles and an FA Cup, was achieved on the back of detailed dossiers compiled on every opponent that displayed the most meticulous attention to detail.
As I discovered when interviewing Revie’s son Duncan for my 2010 biography about his father, the one-time England manager insisted on no stone being left unturned during United’s preparations.
Duncan had scores of old exercise books going back decades, all crammed to bursting with handwritten notes on opposition teams.
Every player’s performance was broken down into 15-minute segments, and featured all manner of skills from dribbling to clearances and tackles.
Duncan, sadly no longer with us after passing in 2016, summed it up nicely when he said: “Football clubs pay Pro-Zone thousands of pounds per season for something similar these days but Dad and his staff were compiling these, in long-hand, every single week”.
Bielsa, judging by Wednesday’s extraordinary press briefing, would surely have approved. Like Revie all those years ago, the Argentinian is obsessed with knowing absolutely everything about a forthcoming opponent.
Take tomorrow’s clash with Stoke City. Nathan Jones has only been in charge of the Potters since January 9 so Bielsa and his staff have analysed all 26 games played this season by the Welshman’s previous employer Luton Town.
This insatiable hunger for information, as the nation now knows, is why Bielsa has had a member of his staff at every Championship training ground this season. Some, such as Martin Keown and Stuart Pearce, have accused Bielsa of breaking some form of footballing moral code.
Here in Yorkshire, however, his fellow second-tier managers seem much more relaxed.
“If that is his preference then that is his preference,” said Nigel Adkins, whose Hull City side beat Leeds 2-0 last month, “but I don’t think there is a need because there is enough stuff out there anyway. Plus it obviously didn’t work when we played them.”
Leeds beat Sheffield United 1-0 last month after Dean Henderson gifted the winner to Pablo Hernandez.
“He comes from a different culture and a different way of doing things,” said Blades manager Chris Wilder of Bielsa. “He has not broken any rules. Is it ethical? Possibly not. Should it be done? Possibly not. Anyway, he must have a crystal ball to know that Dean Henderson is going to try and dribble it out and then fall over.”
Rotherham United’s Paul Warne, meanwhile, said: “You do get paranoid at times. Often we have people standing at the fence watching training. I might send a member of staff over.
“Funnily enough, we do try and train at the top end on match prep because that extra 20 metres means they will not be able to see anything.
“But I have not got to the stage yet where people are wearing wigs and moustaches and the wrong number on shorts.”
Bielsa clearly believes to be forewarned is to be forearmed every bit as much as Revie did during his heyday at Elland Road.
This much was clear listening to his explanation into the behaviour that triggered ‘Spygate’. Once again it took me back to those days when conducting interviews for Revie – Revered and Reviled. And specifically an enlightening few hours with Peter Lorimer when the club’s record goalscorer opened up on what made his old boss tick.
Lorimer had initially found those famed dossiers useful, and particularly following Leeds’s promotion in 1964. But he felt Revie had “gone on too long with them”.
“We should have been concentrating on our own game rather than dwelling too much on the opposition and their supposed strengths,” he said that winter’s afternoon in The Commercial pub he had run since the Eighties.
“It got so daft at one stage that we were playing a Third Division team in the FA Cup, a game that was a formality.
“Don had compiled this usual long dossier and he made them sound like a great team. I remember coming out of this meeting and discussing the dossier with Allan Clarke. ‘Sniffer’ said, ‘F****** hell, this lot sound like Real Madrid. What are they doing in the Third Division?’
“But that was how Don was. His motto was, ‘If I don’t tell the players and it happens I have failed’.”