EFL clubs set to approve rule change after Leeds United 'Spygate' saga

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa.
Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa.
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EFL clubs are set to approve new rules preventing a repeat of the ‘Spygate’ saga which embroiled Leeds United and Marcelo Bielsa.

The League’s members are voting on plans to introduce a regulation restricting clubs from observing opposition training sessions in the wake of the controversy which landed Leeds a £200,000 fine in February.

Leeds pleaded guilty to breaking EFL rule 3.4 after Bielsa admitted to sending scouts to watch other Championship sides train as part of his pre-match analysis strategy.

The Argentinian’s comments were prompted by police stopping a member of his staff outside Derby County’s training complex 24 hours before Leeds and Derby met in a Championship game at Elland Road on January 11.

Both the EFL and the Football Association launched investigations into the incident amid a raft of complaints from teams in United’s division.

Despite EFL rules failing to specifically address the secrecy of training sessions, Leeds were punished for a breach of ‘good faith’ and hit with a six-figure fine by the organisation, a fine which Bielsa paid personally. The FA warned the club and Bielsa about their future conduct but did not impose any sanctions.

The EFL is holding its annual general meeting in Portugal this week and will look to implement a rule forbidding clubs from watching rival training sessions in the 72 hours before a match.

Leeds, whose senior employee Paul Bell is attending the AGM, told the EFL in February that they would support the introduction of a specific regulation. The governing body, however, is coming under pressure over Financial Fair Play (FFP) amid demands from certain clubs for Aston Villa to be punished for a breach of profit and sustainability limits.

Villa escaped from the Championship last month by beating Derby in the play-off final at Wembley, potentially avoiding any FFP sanctions from the EFL after three years outside the top flight.

Championship teams are limited to a maximum loss of £39m over a three-year accounting period, though Villa were permitted to lose up to £61m taking into account their final year in the Premier League in 2016-17.

Villa’s deficit in that season alone, however, was more than £80m, leaving them at risk of a points deduction had they remained in the EFL for a fourth term. Birmingham City were deducted nine points in March for breaking profit and sustainability limits.

Championship teams were under the impression that an agreement had been reached between the EFL and the Premier League for promoted sides to face the full weight of sanctions regardless of their league status. The Premier League, however, appears reluctant to impose any deduction on Villa ahead of the new top-flight term.

The situation has left officials at Championship clubs questioning the merit of a system in which boards and owners can take a short-term financial gamble without any guarantee of serious punishment.

FFP is already under intense scrutiny after Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson mounted legal action against Derby over what he claimed was a deliberate attempt to circumnavigate profit and sustainability rules. The Rams posted a profit in their last accounts after owner Mel Morris bought Pride Park stadium in a multi-million pound deal and leased it back to the club.

Morris has since accused Gibson of “hypocrisy” and insisted that Derby were compliant with FFP. Reports also suggest that the EFL will attempt to clamp down this summer on jibes from official club Twitter accounts.

Leeds drew criticism for goading Derby after their play-off final loss and Brentford and Fulham engaged in a choice exchange after Brentford made fun of the latter’s relegation to the Championship.

United’s Twitter account has also been involved in spats with One Direction’s Niall Horan and Pizza Hut this season. The EFL was expected to raise the issue during this week’s AGM.