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I spy with my little eye... a dramatic overreaction to 'spygate'

Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa
Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa

“When I was in Athletic Bilbao, we had 280 training sessions and all the training sessions were public. In this case, as all the training sessions were public, all the opponents could come and watch.

"For me, the information you get from a training session is not that significant. That's why I was never asked and never talked about this subject when I was in Bilbao.

"Actually, as head coaches we have more information than we can analyse."

Those were the words of Marcelo Bielsa following his side’s victory over Derby on Friday night, the post-match press conference having featured little discussion of the game itself.

The build-up to the tie at Elland Road was, of course, dominated by ‘spygate’, Derby having caught a member of the Leeds staff watching their training session at the perimeter fence.

It sparked outrage. There have been calls for fines, bans and points deductions; there have been questions like 'how long has this been going on for?' and ‘have Leeds gained an unfair advantage?’

Frank Lampard sees it that way. He accused Leeds of breaking fair play rules; he believes they went a step too far in their preparations for a game of huge importance.

For Bielsa, it was nothing unusual. It’s common practice in his native Argentina, which explains why Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino saw little issue with it as well when he became the latest to be asked by a reporter.

The facts are, if you’re a Championship club and there’s a possibility of viewing your training pitches from a public road, then you have to accept you’re responsible too.

It’s initiative. The most surprising element of this is that teams don’t do it more often. There’s nothing in the rules to say you can’t.

There’s a reason why most Premier League and Championship clubs train in areas surrounded by walls, fences and dense woodland – out of sight of the public.

The example of Bielsa’s time at Bilbao was perfect. Anyone could go and watch them train, including the opposition.

Bielsa spent nearly two years with the La Liga outfit. During that time, they finished top of their Europa League group and won at Old Trafford, making it all the way to the final where they were beaten by Atletico Madrid.

During Bielsa’s time in the country, Spain were the dominant force on the international stage. They won the European Championships in 2008 and 2012, lifting the World Cup for the first time in their history in between that in 2010.

By comparison, England’s best position during that four-year period was a quarter-final appearance at Euro 2012 - they even failed to qualify for the 2008 competition. While other countries prospered, England fell behind on the world stage.

Bielsa, it could be said, is in the business of winning, and in Spain and Argentina, where he made his name, the sort of practices he's learned from are part and parcel of the game.

It’s important to point out that breaking into private property isn’t the right thing to do. However, watching from a spot on public property - there’s nothing wrong about that.

Financial Fair Play is one of the dominant discussion points in England’s second tier. Teams are desperate to reach the promised land of the Premier League and will knowingly overspend to try and do that.

QPR broke the rules to achieve promotion to the top-flight in 2014. Bournemouth also broke the rules in 2014/15. They won the title that season and have since established themselves as a Premier League club. These are actual rules of competition: clear, impossible, in theory, to misinterpret.

Where QPR are concerned, they had to pay a settlement of almost £42m for what they did and are suffering for it now, an embargo being placed upon the club for the 2019 January transfer window.

But in the context of money gained from that time in the Premier League, £42m is nothing and even more certain is the lack of uproad compared to this slightly bizarre but ultimately insignificant act from Leeds.

If you want to be mad at something, be mad at the flagrant disregard for the rules shown by QPR - and they're not alone. What’s not worth getting mad about is a club sending someone to watch football in an area that you could access.

Marcelo Bielsa: At the centre of the spy gate row
Marcelo Bielsa: At the centre of the spy gate row

Retrospective punishment for Leeds in terms of points or result lost – however unlikely that may be – opens up an entirely new debate.

Should QPR and Bournemouth have to replay those entire seasons? Do they have to forfeit certain results where new signings found the net? Will they repay every penny they earned from the Premier League?

It’s why the call for action such as that is a step too far. In all honesty, based on what we saw at Elland Road, the one person who won’t want to replay that fixture is Frank Lampard; it may be better if Derby go home, regather, and work on what comes next.

Lampard should know that this sort of thing has been happening elsewhere for some time.

In an interview shortly after joining Chelsea under Jose Mourinho, Andres Villas-Boas said: "My work enables Jose to know exactly when a player from the opposition team is likely to be at his best or his weakest. I will travel to training grounds, often incognito, and look at our opponents’ mental and physical state before drawing my conclusions. Jose will leave nothing to chance."

Football isn’t a sport that’s as high and mighty as the faux outrage might have you believe. Spying isn't cheating, and on the evidence of Friday's victory for Leeds, perhaps Lampard should start working out a way to watch them train before these sides meet again.


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Most Read Football

Get all the latest football gossip from the day's back pages1

Paper Talk: Rashford's big pay day

Marcus Rashford is set to see his wages double with a new Manchester United deal as Gonzalo Higuain jets in for Chelsea move.

Sporting Life's Premier League preview package2

Saturday's Premier League tips

Mark your card for Saturday's 3pm kick-offs in the Premier League with the best bets, Super 6 predictions and top stats for each game.

Marko Arnautovic has been linked with a move away from West Ham3

Arnautovic can go at right price

West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini says he is willing to sell Marko Arnautovic to China in the January transfer window, but only if the price is right.

Our best bets for Norwich v Birmingham4

Friday night shots at Carrow Road

With 6/1, 9/1 and 11/1 winners among others in 2019 already, Tom Carnduff picks out three best bets for Friday night's game.

The latest done deals and transfer rumours with Sporting Life
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The Transfer Market: Live

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