Spygate dead horse still being flogged but Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa removes sting from Frank Lampard and Chelsea clash

The horse died when Marcelo Bielsa paid a £200,000 fine but more than 18 months later the flogging continues.

By Graham Smyth
Friday, 4th December 2020, 5:45 am
REUNION - Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa was inevitably asked about Spygate ahead of his meeting with Frank Lampard and Chelsea on Saturday. Pic: Tony Johnson
REUNION - Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa was inevitably asked about Spygate ahead of his meeting with Frank Lampard and Chelsea on Saturday. Pic: Tony Johnson

Leeds United’s head coach, Derby County and their former boss Frank Lampard will forever be linked by Spygate, so ahead of the Whites’ visit to Lampard’s current club Chelsea there was an inevability about the topic sneaking into the pre-match conversation.

It was equally inevitable that Bielsa simply would not bite at certain questions, evidently feeling he has addressed the issue in sufficient depth on sufficient occasions.

It cannot be said that Bielsa won’t respond, I’m yet to hear the words ‘no comment’ from his translator, indeed he insisted a national newspaper journalist was allowed to ask a Spygate question late last season when its validity was questioned by a press officer – he just kills them softly.

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“This is a moment that has already past,” said Bielsa, when asked if Lampard had got the wrong impression of him from the incident involving an intern, a public footpath and a Derby County training session.

“It was already analysed and judged by the authorities who judge how these actions need to be resolved.”

A question about what he had learned from the Spygate affair might have tempted him into a critique of the hysteria it whipped up in English football, but again came a straight bat.

“I learned nothing that I didn’t know prior to that,” he began.

“I know the spirit of English football, the punishment I received according to what the authorities deemed indicates to me that this shouldn’t be repeated.

“This is an aspect which can be deemed as something I learned.”

To a direct question about the nature of the relationship between the two coaches, Bielsa responded: “It’s not bad. The relationship I have with him is similar to the ones I have with the rest of my colleagues.”

No headlines to be found there and no spark to reignite any perceived or assumed personal rivalry twixt the two.

What Bielsa allowed himself to be drawn on was Chelsea’s success so far this season and the job Lampard has done at Stamford Bridge, although even then by stressing that he was saying nothing new and nothing that anyone who had analysed the Blues would not know, he took away any sense that his preparation for this game was in any way special or more in-depth than for another.

That’s not to say this is not a special game for Bielsa and his team.

“The values that you analyse to describe a team are how they attack and how they defend, the way they return after they attack and the way they attack after they’ve defended,” he said.

“In these factors you always find Chelsea in favourable positions.

“For us every game in the Premier League is very attractive and every opponent renews the difficulties we have to face – in the case of Chelsea this happens without doubt, with the added point it is a traditional encounter, even though it hasn’t happened for a very long time.”

Perhaps the biggest compliment the Argentine paid his English counterpart was to suggest Lampard’s impact at Chelsea was obvious to behold.

“The observation of the reality describes the job Lampard has done,” he said.

“During last season he developed a lot of the players already in the institution, this season he improved the composition of his team, choosing players for the positions he felt he needed.

“It’s not that my evaluation is helpful for anything, this is shown by the way the team is playing well.

“There are many different types of components in his team, young players who have developed, signings with experience and signings with a big future.

“If you read what is written about Chelsea you will see all of these things I have mentioned, as the people who have analysed them will have seen.”

One of the bones of contention for Lampard when Spygate hit the news appeared to be his perception that Bielsa’s excrutiatingly detailed explanation of his pre-game analysis came with a tacit suggestion that Derby County did not do the same.

“We do analysis too, by the way,” he joked in his first meeting with the press following Bielsa’s PowerPoint, betraying his irritation. Yet it is obvious that Bielsa expects nothing less, from his peers.

“As the competition goes on, it’s been 10 games now, all the managers become knowledgeable about the other teams,” he said.

“Every manager in the Premier League can talk fundamentally about the other 19 teams in the league.”

Sting successfully removed, a salve of respect administered, Bielsa was done and now, today, Lampard will take his turn.

Inevitably he too will face 2019-related questions, possibly responding with a wry smile, a quip and a ‘no, but seriously’ before delivering his thoughts on Bielsa, then and now.

The two men, who took different paths to this Premier League reunion, are unlikely to become firm friends but regardless of how they really feel, they’re equally unlikely to develop a mutual public rivalry.

Instead, at 8pm tomorrow night they will send their respective teams out to do battle in a game of football and maybe after that the dead horse will finally be allowed to rest in peace.