Marcelo Bielsa created quite a stir with his comments and presentation in the aftermath of the Spygate incident. The Hard Tackle takes a look back at the controversy.
“So Marcelo, why do you do the extensive analytical work?”
“Because I think I’m stupid.”
The scenes after the game between Leeds United and Derby County weren’t exactly pleasant. Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa masterminded his side to a 2-0 victory, but admitted in the post-match press conference that the man who was spying on the Derby training session was in fact sent by him.
Frank Lampard was furious and understandably. He felt that his side had been cheated upon and he threatened to file official complaints. Derby County followed suit and as all the drama ensued, it left the world of football polarized into two opinions.
Derby County fans and Lampard apologists accused Bielsa of being a cheat and a fraud while others opined that spying on training sessions was pretty common in modern football and that managers resorted to it.
In the light of these pressing concerns, Bielsa and Leeds United called an emergency press conference at the Whites’ Thorp Arch training ground. What happened next proved yet again why Marcelo Bielsa was the craziest genius and an almost cult figure in modern football.
In the conference, Bielsa took over an hour to demonstrate a presentation the extent of the detail to which he studied his opponents and how the ‘Spygate’ did not give him any unfair advantage over his rivals.
The 63-year-old claimed that the person he sent observed the training session from a public space and did not have private access to gain any unfair advantage or damage the spirit of sportsmanship and he also went on to say that he was the only one who was responsible for that situation and that nobody else at the club had any idea about it.
Bielsa then summarised how the public and so many ex footballers, coaches and his peers thought that his actions were disrespectful towards Derby and that it painted the values and integrity of Leeds United in a bad light.
He also added that he wished to cooperate with the authorities’ investigation and revealed that Leeds’ personnel under his orders observed the training sessions of almost all their opponents. Bielsa then went on to justify how his actions weren’t illegal, how it is not specified in any rulebook, not described and not restrained. Sure, you can talk about the principles of it but it is not a violation of the law.
“I know that not everything that’s legal is not right to do. You have many things that are legal, but not right. This is true as the fact that all the wrong things you do are not done with bad intention. What I’m trying to explain is I didn’t have bad intentions and I didn’t try to get an unfair sports advantage.”
“I did it because it was not illegal and not violating a specific norm. You have norms that are linked to habits, you have norms that are linked to social condemnation and you have norms linked to what the law says.”
Bielsa then went on to explain in detail how sending someone to spy on Derby training sessions did not give him a leverage or an upper hand. He said that as a coach, when he watches an opponent he is looking for three things primarily – the starting XI, the tactics and the set pieces.
These were the three main axes. Bielsa also elaborated how he spent hours and hours watching his opponents’ matchday videos and how he likes to collaborate with his staff to build a large volume of information, often more than he can process and sort through.
Thus, “spying” on the training session is only a confirmation of the information already existing with Bielsa; it does not provide a new perspective or alternative to his project altogether. Bielsa also explained that he works with 20 odd people at Leeds in order to create this library of information, most of which is often useless in practical match scenarios.
“So why do we do that?” Because we feel guilty if we don’t work enough. Because it allows us not to have too much anxiety. And we think by gathering information we feel that we get closer to a win. In my case, it’s because I’m stupid enough to allow myself this kind of behaviour.”
He then went on to reveal with plots, stats, diagrams and analytical data collected over 360 hours of work on 51 games of Derby from the 2017-18 season. And he said that it was his duty as a professional coach to sort through the heap to find any needle that would help his side.
Bielsa then showed all the information and video presentations he had on Derby as the journalists desired in order to convince them of the immense shifts he liked to put in, regardless of whether the information and its analytical importance was relevant to the cause or not.
“I’m going to tell you a story. When I was Bilbao coach, we played the final against Barcelona who won 3-0. They were generous with us because after the third goal they stopped playing. I was very sad to lose this game. When the game finished I sent to Guardiola, this analysis as a gift expressing my admiration for him.
“He told me, ‘you know more about Barcelona than me.’ But it was useless because they scored three goals against us. I do this to feel well, I see that this information does not allow you to win games.”
Marcelo Bielsa ended the press conference by revealing how he prepared for his upcoming opponents, Stoke City. Stoke had appointed a new coach who played just three games.
“So what did we do? We analyse the 26 games he played with Lutton and we analysed the tactical structures he used. I give you this explanation to make you understand why I think I am not cheating, by doing something that is not illegal. I know I am not trying to get an advantage. I already have the information.”
Bielsa ending the press conference by justifying his extensive analytical work by saying, “I repeat – Why do I do it? Because I think I am stupid” is as great a summation of intelligence as it gets.