Marcelo Bielsa took responsibility for the ‘Spygate’ saga which dominated Leeds United’s victory over Derby County but defended himself against accusations of cheating and said he would not apologise for sending a member of his backroom team to watch a Derby training session.
The Leeds United head coach gave a defiant response to the furore over the sighting of a United scout at Derby’s training ground on Thursday morning, admitting he had a duty to “respect the moral scale of where I work” but refusing to say if he would end his long-standing practice.
The Football Association is investigating after police were called to Derby’s training complex following complaints of a man with binoculars acting suspiciously outside the perimeter fence.
No arrest was made and Derbyshire Police said “routine checks” had resulted to no legal action but Derby upped the ante by stating publicly that the individual was part of Leeds “footballing staff”.
Bielsa revealed that he phoned Derby manager Frank Lampard directly on Thursday to tell the former England midfielder that he had sanctioned the scouting trip.
Lampard, whose side were comprehensively outplayed in a 2-0 defeat at Elland Road, struggled to hide his anger over what he said was “a hop, skip and a jump over the line” and Bielsa said he was ready to accept any sanction brought against him by Leeds or the FA.
“I'm the only one responsible for this situation,” the former Argentina and Chile coach said. “I don't involve the club in it because I didn't ask the club for permission.
“I can explain my behaviour but I don't justify it because I have to respect the norms that are applied in the country I work in. I started doing it in the qualifications for the World Cup with Argentina and Chile. It's something legal in South America and in England too.
“In South America when this becomes public it doesn't provoke the same indignation it provokes in England. In South America, like in England, when we find out that someone is watching the training session, we ask him to leave.
“I don't think you should be condemned or sentenced because you go and watch a training session. If you watch a training session from a public space, it's not illegal and you don't get condemned by the police. I don't feel like I’m someone who cheated.
“I understand that Frank Lampard is angry because he thinks I'm someone who is cheating. I understand that he draws this kind of conclusion but I don't think I cheated because my goal was not to get an illegal advantage.
“I have to respect the point of view of English football about this practice but I don't think I'm an immoral person.”
Bielsa, who criticised the unnamed member of staff at Leeds for initially telling police that he was not working for the club, said he did not believe that Lampard had accepted his explanation.
“He told me that I violated the fair play rules,” Bielsa said.
“I didn’t call him to apologise. I called him to tell him that I was responsible and that the facts actually happened. He was direct in his answer and I respect that. I don’t feel like I’m a person who cheats but I accept any reaction this behaviour creates. Things are as English football says. I respect the moral scale of where I work.
“I would accept any sanction that the club takes against me, I would accept any sanction that the federation takes against me and I would accept the judgement of Derby County and Frank Lampard. But the only thing I will apologise for is contaminating a football game with this subject.”
Bielsa, however, refused to say that he would stop sending scouts to spy on opposition training sessions. “If I said that, I would lose credibility,” he said. “I won’t say that I won’t do it again. It’s a childish position to answer like that.”
Lampard revealed that Derby believed a similar scouting trip had occurred before Leeds’ 4-1 win at Pride Park in August and called for action to be taken.
“If you talk about details and gaining advantages, great managers do that but this one is over the line,” said Lampard, who admitted that Derby had lost to the “better side from minute one to minute 90.” “It's not just a toe over the line. It's a hop, skip and a jump over the line as far as I’m concerned.
“It’s not for me to say what happens. I believe there’s not a clear-cut rule about it but we can’t open the door to this happening every week. What kind of farce would that be, of everybody sending undercover people, drones to training? It would be farcical. Something has to be done. I just don’t know what it is.”
Leeds dominated sixth-placed Derby from the start at Elland Road, driven on by a spirited crowd of more than 34,000, and moved five points clear at the top of the Championship at full-time.
United turned in one of their best performances under Bielsa and settled the game with goals in each half from Kemar Roofe and Jack Harrison.
“It was a very complete game,” Bielsa said. “The fans have never supported us as much as tonight. The fans understood that it was a very important game so they gave us all their support.
“The fans and the team understood the importance of this game and they united. The team played in a way which deserved the support.”