More than a fortnight has passed since the appearance of a Leeds United scout outside Derby County’s training ground set the ongoing ‘Spygate’ dispute in motion.
Leeds and head coach Marcelo Bielsa are under investigation by both the EFL and the Football Association after Bielsa admitted to sending members of his staff to watch every other Championship club train, prompting a direct complaint to the EFL from 11 teams in the league.
EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey, the former Leeds CEO, took to TalkSPORT this afternoon to discuss the saga and the possible implications. This is what he had to say:
What did Harvey make of the controversy?
“It started to eek out last Thursday (January 10) and the subsequent admissions have raised its profile since. There are many issues in football that divide opinion and this one, in its own right, has.
“When you look at the different reactions of clubs and media and supporters, half say ‘good on you’. The other half say (‘it’s outrageous’) so we’re in this situation depending on where your personal view falls. What’s interesting, as was revealed by one of the national newspapers, is that 11 clubs have asked for some more specific information and I think they’re quite within their rights to want to do that.”
Have the EFL replied to the clubs who complained?
“We’ve acknowledged receipt of the points that they’ve made and Leeds have still got to respond formally to the questions we’ve asked them, and they’ve still got the time to be able to do that. They’re quite rightly trying to focus and concentrate on the football this weekend and that’s ultimately also what they should be allowed to do.
“The matter that Steve (Bristol City owner Steve Lansdown, who wants Leeds to receive a point deduction) refers to is that side of the view and it’s something we do need to look at. There’s always a balance between profile building and getting on and doing the right thing. It will be a case of finding the balance.
“Ultimately the rules of the EFL are decided by the clubs. The executive - we perform a function to help the clubs achieve a set of rules around the competition that they want in place. If the majority of clubs want to put in effectively an anti-espionage rule then there’s no reason why that can happen.”
Will the EFL introduce a new rule?
“Any club can make any recommendation for any rule. It only goes onto the books if the majority of clubs support it. The reality is with where we are, and this is a matter of public record, there was no specific rule that we have which says you cannot review another club’s training sessions. There is the principle around acting in good faith towards each other and the question is, has that been broken?
“The reason I sit on the fence at this stage is that it’s not for me to decide. And we haven’t seen all the information. However, if it’s an issue specifically of concern, the way to address it is to have a specific rule. It does seem to some that this will be overkill but the reality is I have to balance it off against another challenge.
“You’ve already heard me talk about the wonderful work we do in our community. To put an eight-foot solid fence round all the training grounds in 72 communities around the country when we’re try to attract children to aspire to a career as a footballer - putting an eight-foot fence around every single training ground seems completely counter-productive to what we’re trying to achieve.”
Can you rule out punishment for Leeds United?
“There was a complaint from Derby, there’s a complaint from 11 clubs. That complaint will have to be considered against the facts that they bring forward, the response that Leeds bring forward and the matter will be determined from there. On the basis that it’s still live today, that’s exactly where I leave this matter.
“The complaint has to go through a process. Both sides of any argument have got the equal right for their position to be heard. We’re not letting it drag on. It’s already well underway. We’re expecting a response shortly from Leeds and we will look to get the matter clarified and finalised for everyone as quickly as possible.
“It’s got to be determined against the rules to see where the independent panel will take any potential punishment. There’s no clarity that can be provided (by Harvey today), positive or negative. The action happened, it needs to be dealt with.
The one commitment I am able to make to Leeds supporters, and indeed the supporters of others clubs, is that whatever outcome we’re going to get to, we’re going to get there as quickly as is humanly possible.”