LEEDS UNITED head coach Marcelo Bielsa has vehemently defended his decision to use covert tactics to scout opponents ahead of every game this season – insisting it has not given his side any unfair advantage.
In a bid to provide further clarity to the ‘Spygate’ saga which has dominated the footballing agenda since Bielsa took responsibility for a member of staff being spotted at Derby County’s training ground the day before last Friday’s game at Leeds – when police were called – the Argentine elected to address the media in an extraordinary press conference yesterday.
Using a PowerPoint presentation, Bielsa offered a detailed insight into the painstaking levels of research which he and his backroom staff undertake in their analysis of every rival side, player and formation – to produce an exhaustive database on all opponents.
By way of an example, the 63-year-old – known for his scrupulous and forensic attention to detail throughout his globally successful coaching career – presented an array of information on Derby in an attempt to convey that his working knowledge of them was already vast ahead of the Spygate saga. That included almost 300 hours of video footage of Derby, Bielsa revealed.
Bielsa said: “All the information I need to clarify the game against an opponent, I gather without having the necessity to have to watch the training session of the opponent.
“So why did I do it? It is just because I thought I was not violating a normal thing. As I reach my conclusion, I gather information that I can obtain in another manner.
“I would like to explain how the brain of a head coach works. Apart from the players in the staff, you have around 20 people. These 20 people create a volume of information.
“It is absolutely not necessary. It does not define the path of the competition. So why do we do that? Because we feel guilty if we do not work enough. It allows us to not have anxiety.
“Of each opponent, we watched all the games of 2018/19 – and we watched the 51 games of Derby County (last season). The analysis of each game takes four hours of work – why did we do that? Because we think it is professional behaviour.”
The English Football League and Football Association are continuing their investigations into the accusations of ‘spying’ by Leeds and Bielsa’s fresh revelations about viewing the training sessions of all rival sides is likely to heighten the focus.
Following Friday night’s game at Elland Road – which Championship leaders Leeds won 2-0 – Whites chairman Andrea Radrizzani met with his Derby counterpart Mel Morris and formally apologised for the incident at the Rams’ training ground on the previous day.
In a club statement, Leeds pledged to remind Bielsa and his staff of ‘the integrity and honesty which are the foundations that Leeds United is built on’.
Bielsa, meanwhile, believes that his open admission that he has watched footage of every other opponent train this season will make it “easier” for the authorities in their investigations into his conduct, which could yet result in disciplinary charges.
Despite widespread rebuke from many media figures, including former England internationals Stuart Pearce, Jermaine Jenas and Alan Shearer, Bielsa’s observational tactics – something that are widely employed in Argentina – are also being viewed with considerably more sympathy from others in the game.
They include Bielsa’s compatriot, Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino, who said that the practice was “not a big deal” and was commonplace in Argentina.
Bielsa said: “I am going to make it easier for EFL investigation.
“I observed all the rivals we played against. We watched all the training sessions before we played them.
“My goal is to make this easier for the investigation. By doing this, I assume the possible sanctions by the authorities.
“I do not want to make it easier for me by attacking others.
“Regarding what I have done, it is not illegal. It is not specified, described or restrained.
“It is not seen as a good thing, but it is not a violation of the law. Although not illegal, it is not necessarily the right thing to do.
“The wrong things you do are not done with bad intention or an intention to cheat.
“If you observe something without authorisation, we call it spying.
“I am going to try and explain I did not have bad intentions,” he added.
“I did not try to get an unfair sporting advantage. But I did it because it was not illegal or violating specific laws.”
The EFL, who opened an investigation into the incident after a complaint by Derby, have warned of potential punishment to come.
A statement issued on Tuesday alluded that the “alleged actions appear to contravene the club’s charter that all EFL clubs agreed to in summer 2018”.
Furthermore, EFL regulation 3.4 states that “each club shall behave towards each other club and the League with the utmost good faith.”
Regulation 21 also provides scope for the governing body to charge Bielsa, Leeds or both with bringing the game into disrepute.
Meanwhile, Derby manager Frank Lampard refused to be drawn on Bielsa’s latest comments when interviewed ahead of the Rams’ FA Cup third-round replay at Southampton last night.
Lampard, highly critical of the ‘unethical’ conduct of Bielsa last week, said: “I made quite a few comments earlier in the week about it. I have not seen the latest press conference, but have been told about it in general terms.
“It is one to comment on, or not, when I know more about it.”