The fate of Leeds United and Marcelo Bielsa is set to be discussed at the next Football League board meeting on Thursday, 7 February.
“Spygate,” for those of you who have been living under a rock, is referring to an incident where a Leeds United employee was questioned by police outside of the Derby County training ground for acting “suspiciously” but was let go after the police determined that no law had been broken.
Since then, after complaints first from Derby and then from other clubs, the FA and the Football League have investigated what exactly transpired. Of course, in addition to the the FA and the EFL becoming involved, Bielsa held a “clearing of the air” press briefing where he went into detail all of the steps that he and his staff do to prepare for a game, and he took great lengths to explain that he did nothing against the rules, did not “cheat,” and that sending an intern or an employee to observe another team training was only a very, very small portion of the analysis that was done by his staff.
In addition to the initial complaints, 11 Championship clubs wrote to the EFL looking for clarification into what exactly happened and wanted to know all the details from Leeds about the “spying” that took place and how and who did the “spying.”
If it all seems a bit silly, it’s because it is silly. This whole “spygate” affair is a giant farce, designed to penalize a foreign manager for daring to not only go against the customs of what English clubs would consider “fair play,” but to then not appear apologetic about it.
To be clear, the actual surveillance broke no rules. Perhaps a rule should be agreed upon about it, but as for right now, no actual FA or EFL rule was broken at all by Marcelo Bielsa or Leeds United. The complaint stems from a possible violation of a rule that states that clubs “shall behave towards each other club and the League with the utmost good faith.”
It’s been covered elsewhere by others in better fashion, but the whole argument that Leeds broke “good faith” agreements by not breaking rules to observe training seems a bit of a stretch. Have Leeds been a bit naughty? Perhaps. Does this rise to the level of anything beyond a fine and a new rule against opponents observing training? Of course not.
The EFL has routinely failed to apply the “fit and proper” test to potential owners of football clubs and has also refused to intervene once football owners go off the rails and engage in financial shenanigans. Even the EFL’s own Financial Fair Play rules go more-or-less unenforced, as teams that have violated the rules to gain promotion are not penalized with anything more than a fine. How is deliberately putting a football club’s financial future at risk not violating an agreement of “good faith?”
There are plenty of examples of bad behavior by owners and other managers, including Tony Pulis admitting that he used to ring people he knew or people in the press to get inside information about an opponent. Even Frank Lampard, who has objected the most, benefited while at Chelsea from Jose Mourinho hiding in a laundry bag to give instructions while he was suspended and from Andre Villas-Boas traveling “incognito” to gain information about the opponents. Seems rather similar to what Bielsa has admitted to, no?
All of this “holier than thou” attitude from the press reeks of xenophobia towards an Argentine manager who isn’t beholden to the press or pundits in England, even if that bias isn’t necessarily even realised by those who are acting shocked and horrified by the whole thing. The fact that Bielsa has maintained that he has done nothing wrong doubly adds to the hand-wringing.
The EFL will discuss it today, but don’t expect to hear any decision about it until next week, with a few leaks coming out about it before an actual official announcement is made. Just know that if the penalty is anything more than just a fine or perhaps some punishment for Bielsa, Leeds fans will rightly feel that the EFL has screwed them over.