EFL: Leeds, Marcelo Bielsa and ‘spygate’ – what’s all the fuss?

After Marcelo Bielsa’s admission of spying on Leeds’ opponents’ training sessions this season, Ross Bramble discusses the aftermath and the questions surrounding ‘spygate’.

Embed from Getty Images

If you ever play a game of Go Fish with me, there’s a solid chance I’ll lie and tell you I don’t have the card you’re looking for if I think the game is going against me. Does that make me a bad person? Perhaps, but I’ve never once regretted it.

My relationship with cheating is a controversial one, and understandably so. I’ll take whatever advantage I can find to help my cause, so long as I calculate I can get away with it. Perhaps that’s why Leeds United’s recent ‘spygate’ scandal struck such a deep chord with me.

When I first heard the news, I, like many neutrals, thought it was outrageous – it just isn’t done, is it? Or, if it is done, it’s never broadcast and worn as a badge of honour by the perpetrators. Yet, that’s exactly how it was worn by a rather nonchalant Marcelo Bielsa, who dryly explained the practise of spying on his opponent’s training sessions was not only something he’d done for years, but something that happens elsewhere all the time.

The tactical press conference the Argentine held, in which he invited journalists to view his mountainous spreadsheets of data and analysis, seemed to me like distracting your toddler by jingling a bunch of keys. It worked, mind you, because the furore over ‘spygate’ from the media seemed to almost entirely dissipate.

That hasn’t quelled the rebellion among other EFL clubs, though, many of whom have registered their complaints with the governing body. If league leaders Leeds are persecuted for their spying, they could face a costly points deduction that could open the door for Norwich, West Brom, Sheffield United and others to stake a claim to the title.

What struck me most during the entire debacle was how I, as someone who subscribes to the Eddie Guerrero philosophy of “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying”, could be so certain that what Bielsa had done was appalling, but lying in a game of Go Fish was entirely inadmissible.

The answer, obviously, is because cheating in a game of Go Fish helps me. As a massive Championship fan, Bielsa spying on training sessions feels as though it hurts me. It’s weakened the competitive spirit of my favourite division by giving one team an advantage over their 23 opponents. But what if I were a Leeds fan? Well, I’d probably be quite happy with him.

It’s not all that hard a leap to make, either. Each and every football fan is willing to forgive cheating in their own ranks so long as it furthers their team’s cause – in fact, we even have a euphemism for it: “the dark arts”.

I vividly remember the night that Southampton played Inter Milan in the Europa League. Southampton went a goal behind but won a penalty just before half-time, and with the referee’s back turned, one of the Inter players started scuffing and digging up the penalty spot. Tadic duly missed the preceding penalty. I was livid at the injustice – but I also hoped some of our players were taking notes.

Embed from Getty Images

When Nathan Redmond scores with his arm against West Ham, I, as a Southampton fan, take pride in his cunning. When Abdoulaye Doucoure palms a ball into the net and steals three points from us, though, I’m appalled. Watford fans? Well, they loved every minute of it.

There’s a part of us all that thinks each game should start and end with a handshake – the ethical grey areas that players like Diego Costa reside in feel incompatible with that Duchess of Queensbury Rules mindset we seem to have.

Therein lies the crux of the ‘spygate’ scandal – do the EFL sides have a right to be upset? Almost undoubtedly. But would fans have admired their dedication to success if their manager had been on the other end of the binoculars? Almost undoubtedly.

Cheating has always been a part of the business, and it can never be stamped out so long as fans make allowances for those who cheat in their favour.

If Leeds are punished by the EFL, I think we’d all – perhaps with the exception of Leeds fans – feel some sort of vindication. But to claim any sort of ethical superiority over the Whites seems, to me, short-sighted at best and shamelessly hypocritical at worst.

Follow Ross on Twitter at @rossbramble

4 Comments on EFL: Leeds, Marcelo Bielsa and ‘spygate’ – what’s all the fuss?

  1. david rawcliffe // January 29, 2019 at 8:46 pm // Reply

    worst twaddle i have ever read

  2. Everything you have written is subjective.
    Which is worse cheating in scale, what Bielsa has admitted to, or say, Jamie Vardy diving in the box to ‘win’ a penalty in the last minute of a game, thus guaranteeing three points.
    I think the latter is much worse, as there is no guarantee that what Bielsa has admitted may not have contributed at all to the points tally Leeds have and I would say more than likely hasn’t.
    There are countless occurrences of cheating every week, without all the ridiculous furore that has followed someone peering through a fence on a public footpath, watching some blokes practice!

  3. And with No rule in place ,and on a public grounds No Law Or Rule broken!!!!!!! Nothing to answer to….cheating in football starts with the match officials.??????? So go and do one MOT

  4. Paul Cranswick // January 30, 2019 at 7:25 am // Reply

    Well written article but there is a huge double standard being applied here. When Chelsea’s ex-manager and coach Vilas Boas admitted a few years ago that he was routinely despatched by them to spy on the opposition training it didn’t merit any press coverage at all. Lampard is something of a pin-up boy in English football and Derby hyped up this story ridiculously by spreading false claims about trespass and bolt cutters and so on and Sky jumped on the bandwagon to create much about nothing.
    Other clubs coaches have admitted that this goes on in various guises it is just that Leeds are a popular target and Sky want them to stay where they are as their Championship coverage would be greatly devalued without Leeds in that league.
    The real cheating is the pathetic time wasting and diving and feigning injury that we have seen time after time at Elland Road from the opposition this season. Whilst I am sure that there is not an agenda from the League or its referees to purposely marshal games to the detriment of Leeds you would sometimes wonder given some of the appalling decisions we have faced this season.
    Ollie Watkins is a talented young player at Brentford but he has been rewarded for two simply outrageous dives – one against Leeds and the other against poor Barnet in the cup earlier this week. Aren’t those offences more obviously punishable than Leeds alleged breach of sporting etiquette. Pochettino, Guardiola and others have indicated that there is nothing much of a story in what Bielsa had been doing but it is perhaps instructive as to why almost all the top coaches in England are from overseas. They are simply more thorough and prepare better. I also believe that there is an element of racism in the assumed outrage over Bielsa’s behaviour as exemplified by Peter Shilton’s astonishing comment about him being a cheat because he is an Argentinian.
    Anyone who has seen Leeds play this year will wonder why they are not further clear (thank you referees) having 70% possession of the ball every week. This is achieved by hard work on the Leeds training ground and not by peeking through a hedge looking at someone else’s training ground.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: