Leeds United surged five points clear at the top of the Championship last night after a classy 2-0 win over Derby County but the build-up to the game at Elland Road and the press conferences afterwards were dominated by debate over Marcelo Bielsa’s pre-match preparation.
Bielsa was accused of unsporting conduct by Frank Lampard after sending a member of his staff to watch Derby’s training session on Thursday morning, 24 hours before kick-off. The scout was stopped by local police after the Derbyshire constabulary received reports of a man acting suspiciously outside County’s training ground.
Bielsa phoned Lampard to accept responsibility for the incident but declined to apologise for a practice he employed in previous jobs and speaking at full-time, he defended his conduct while accepting that English football frowned on covert scouting. Lampard, meanwhile, maintained his claim that Bielsa had crossed a line. Here is a full transcript of their post-match comments:
Marcelo, the game was played with an interesting story behind it, about you sending somebody to watch training at Derby. What more would you like to add about that and is it something you will still continue to do?
Bielsa: “It’s a 10-minute explanation. If you want it, I can give you the 10-minute explanation.”
It would be interesting to hear the explanation.
Bielsa: "I'm the only one responsible for this situation. What happened is true. When I say I'm the only one responsible, I don't involve the club in it because I didn't ask the club for permission and I didn’t have their permission.
“When I saw that Frank Lampard, the coach of Derby County, the fans and authorities of the club were indignated by this, I called Frank Lampard to tell him that what happened was true and I was the only one responsible for the situation.
“I found out by calling him that he thought I didn't respect the fair play rules. If we take into account this fact, Frank Lampard is right, Derby County are right and their fans are right. The conclusion that has been drawn is that I had a sporting advantage and that my behaviour was not right. I can explain my behaviour but I don't justify it because I have to respect the norms that are applied in the country where I work.
“I'm going to explain my behaviour but my intention is not to be understood or to justify my behaviour. I've done this practice for many years. I started doing it when I was playing 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 but 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. It’s like this in this country and in South America. The only difference in South America is that it doesn’t generate the indignation we have here.
“I don't feel like I’m someone who is cheating for having done that, for one main reason. First of all, I didn't get any added advantage from this situation. Then you would ask me 'why did you do that?' Because it's just an additional source of information. I'm used to doing that.
“I understand that Frank Lampard, the head coach, is angry because he thinks I'm someone who is cheating. I understand that he draws this kind of conclusion. I don't feel I cheated because my goal was not to get an illegal advantage. I don't have the aspiration to be understood but I have the duty to understand the reaction about this in this country.
“I would like to give you an example which reflects my position on this subject. 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.
“To sum up, I'm the only one responsible for the situation. I have to respect the point of view of English football about this kind of practice. I don't think I'm an immoral person because I’ve done this. My goal was not to get a sporting advantage by doing this.
“There are two questions to which I can't give a satisfactory answer. You could say ‘if it's not significant, why do you collect this type of information?’ The answer is it's an additional tool. Regarding the person who went to watch the training sessions, this person was in a public space, he was not arrested and when he was told to leave he left. He obeyed the orders he received. We could also say this behaviour is weakened. If we could criticise something, when he was asked if he was working at Leeds United, he gave a negative answer. His intention was to hide something that for me is natural - to watch a training session. This is a weak point. But that's my point of view on the subject.”
Marcelo, do you believe that Frank Lampard has accepted your explanation? Do you feel he is content with the explanation?
Bielsa: “No. He told me that I violated the fair play rules. I said that anything you do regarding this, I would understand and I would accept it as legitimate.
“I didn’t call him to apologise. I called him to tell him that I was responsible for the situation and the facts actually happened. He was direct in his answer and I respect that. He said ‘you violated fair play rules’. It was not convenient for me to explain to him my point of view. This would have been seen as a way to change the perception he had.
“I think I was clear enough and I don’t want anyone to think that I’m trying to justify anything. I’m just explaining why I don’t feel I’m a person who cheats and why I accept any reaction this behaviour creates.
“I don’t have any possibility to change points of view. Things are as English football says. I have to respect the habits and traditions of this country.”
The Football Association say that it is investigating this. Would you then expect or fear punishment from them and would you defend yourself against it?
Bielsa: “I understand that they are searching but do you think that I haven’t given enough information on this?”
You have given us a lot of information but if they come to you and they charge you or bring action against you, would you defend yourself?
Bielsa: “I just said all that I wanted to say on this subject. I don’t have to defend myself because I’m not right. I don’t define the habits and moral scale. I respect the moral scale that the country where I work sets.
“Personally, for me this subject is over because I can’t assume more than what I assumed. I said I was the only one responsible.”
Marcelo, will you stop that practice? You won’t do it again now that you know it’s not acceptable in this country?
Bielsa: “I expressed myself enough on this subject. I don’t think I need to add anything more about it. I don’t want to answer this question. My behaviour has to be linked to what I just said. I can speak on the subject all the time you need. I don’t have problems about it.”
Have the club indicated that they will take action about it?
Bielsa: “I’m the only one responsible and I assume the responsibility. I would accept any sanction that the club takes against me, I would accept any sanction which the federation takes against me and I would accept the judgement of Derby County and Frank Lampard on the subject.”
Has Andrea (Radrizzani) spoken to you about it?
Bielsa: “With all that I just said, there is no necessity to say something more. I said everything I wanted to say.
“All this episode affects me. Of course the win is very important. The only thing I’m going to apologise for is to have contaminated a football game with this subject.
“For this gentleman (the journalist who asked if Bielsa would stop the practice) to understand my position, if as a child I would say I won’t do it again, I wouldn’t feel well responding like this. I would lose credibility.
“I won’t say that I won’t do it again. It’s a childish position to answer like that.”
Marcelo said he rang you and apologised. He said you were upset by what had happened. What are your thoughts on it now?
Lampard: “I’m in a difficult position here because after our performance I need to draw the line between the performance and the bigger story of what happened.
“Of course I don’t think it’s right. I’m not sure anyone who plays sport at any level could think it’s right, to send people crawling on their hands and knees with tools to break into your private land and look at what you’re preparing to do the next day.
“If it’s a cultural thing then I’m very surprised. I don’t think it’s right and I’ll stand by that.”
You seem angry about it. Are you still angry about it?
Lampard: “I’m actually more angry about the way we performed here tonight because we weren’t at our best at all.
“This is a bigger question though. I wouldn’t say I was angry before the game. I was a bit surprised for sure. Very surprised at it. I was even surprised by the very frank admission that it’s what happened, it’s fine and it’s been done before. That was surprising to me.”
Do you think he’s been doing it all season, judging by that?
Lampard: “I don’t know.”
He’s not apologising for it. He says he understands that he’s offended English football but he’s not actually apologising for it, and he doesn’t think it gives him a sporting advantage.
Lampard: “I’m not sure why you would do it if it doesn’t give you a sporting advantage. It’s impossible to say that.”
He’s used a lot of words to talk around the subject but do you consider it cheating?
Lampard: “That’s a big word. If you talk about details and gaining advantages, great managers do that. Good managers do that. But this one is over the line and 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 because all managers are proud of the work they do on the training ground.
“I sat and watched Leeds for about 15 hours this week. I watched how they played in recent weeks. I try and think about what team they’re going to play, how they’re going to play, what formation, what individuals, and that’s the game. The best managers do it better than others so when somebody comes in on the sly to see you do team shape, team press, individuals, personnel decisions and people who aren’t playing because they’re ruled out, then it’s over the line.”
There was a suggestion pre match that you thought Marcelo had done this in the first fixture this season. Is that the case and can you explain what happened there?
Lampard: “Our kit man saw the same fella in the same clothes as he was pictured in yesterday, filming our training.”
Is there a reason why it wasn’t reported then?
Lampard: “He was asked to leave and left so there was no detail. If I saw someone in our training ground I would think they were just someone, a fan or whatever. I would never have put two and two together to think that another team or manager would do it.”
Do you think less of Bielsa now?
Lampard: “I was a fan of his from afar. I’ve got this book at home. You watch his career and he’s very different. In a good way I mean. He’s innovative as a coach and has always been. But it’s not the way I do things.
“If that’s it then I don’t like it and I’d rather not coach than send people undercover on their hands and knees with pliers and bolt cutters to look at the opposition because I respect the opposition. I shake their hand before it and I shake their hand at the end of the game and I try my best to beat them.
“That’s just how I do it and that’s not me painting myself as an angel because if I can try and win a game then I will do but as I say, there are some things that go beyond what’s right I believe.”
What do you want to happen? Who have you complained to and what would you like to be the outcome of this?
Lampard: “To reverse the three points we lost! Listen, it’s not for me to say what happens. I don’t know what the rules are. I believe there’s not an absolute clear-cut rule about it but we can’t open the door to this thing happening every week. What kind of farce would that be, of everyone sending undercover people, drones, whatever, into training. It would be farcical. So something has to be done, I just don’t know what it is and it’s not my decision.”
Did he actually use his wire cutters?
Lampard: “I don’t know. I believe not. That’s what I heard from the police, which is where this first came from and became public as such. If not, we’d be none the wiser to this and it would probably carry on.”
So has the guy actually committed a criminal offence?
Lampard: “No. I believe he wasn’t charged. He was just attempting to get onto our premises with binoculars I believe.” *Press officer interjects: “The Derbyshire constabulary have already made a statement on that.”
"Would you be open, as daft as it sounds, to modifications of the training ground? On Google Maps and Street View you can see the pictures of the training ground from a public street, which is where I presume he was.
Lampard: “Listen, if you have to go that far because of an opposition manager doing it, then for security reasons yes. But we have a very secure training ground which the owner has spent a lot of money on developing before I was at the club.
“I know for a fact that teams like Manchester City and Chelsea are ultra-secretive about how they train and what they do - what’s filmed and what’s kept secret because that’s how it should be. How you train and how you prepare is yours. Then you take it to a matchday.
“Let’s not point any fingers at our training ground. It’s a great facility where we welcome people. We welcome fans, guests of myself, players, anybody. You don’t expect what happened to happen.”