Why the modern game needs Marcelo Bielsa's honesty
Unethical, immoral, disgusting, cheat. These are some of the expressions that have been used to describe Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa since he confirmed on Friday evening that he had sent a spy into the Derby County training ground ahead of their Friday night Championship fixture.
Derby County manager Frank Lampard was hard-hitting on his attack of Bielsa's dark arts in the build-up to the match, and further frustration followed as Leeds United claimed a comfortable 2-0 win at Elland Road through the attacking and expansive tactical approach that has defined them under their heralded Argentinian coach this season.
Bielsa attempted to defend his actions by explaining that such practice is commonplace in different countries around the world and that it is an approach he has applied previously to gain an advantage over his opponents for a number of years. Bielsa may have missed the memo on the traditions and sportsmanship that formed the basis of British football when he arrived, but he is more than aware of them now.
However, for all the criticism and shock that has emerged since his confession, far worse things happen on a daily basis on and off the field in what was once the beautiful game. Professional football at every level is an ugly business, and the ethical basis that it was built upon has long been confined to the annals of football history.
Referees have an impossible job as they must interpret the actions of 22 players who are trying to cheat and trick them to gain any advantage throughout the course of 90 minutes. From diving and acting to calling for blatantly incorrect decisions, VAR has been introduced to try and reduce the impact of such actions, as players cannot be trusted play with honesty.
Combine these actions with the work of agents and representatives working behind the scenes to manipulate moves for players and the scandals that have affected various governing bodies in recent years over marketing deals and television rights, then the actions of Bielsa this week start to fall into context. His actions may have been unethical, but that is also the culture of the modern game.
Honesty in his admission of guilt
What separates Bielsa from the others is that he came out and publicly took full responsibility for his actions, confessed that it was his idea, and apologised to all parties involved. Bielsa comes from a different culture, and while he may not agree with the media storm he has generated, he has acted humbly in his admission and apology.
“I talked to Frank Lampard and he told me I didn't respect the fair play rules,” explained Bielsa to Sky Sports. “I have a different point of view but the important thing is what Frank Lampard and Derby County think. I didn't ask permission from Leeds United to do it so it's my responsibility. Without trying to find a justification, I've been using this kind of practice since the qualifications for the World Cup with Argentina.”
How many players confess to diving after a match? Very few. How many players will tell a referee that they weren't fouled when an incorrect decision goes their way? Even less. Bielsa could have denied all knowledge of the event in question and there would be no evidence to dismiss his claim. But he didn't. He stood up and accepted the repercussions.
It is impossible to calculate just what a difference his spying mission had on the result, but it certainly didn't harm their chances. Lampard didn't hold back before the match, but his actions may have had a negative effect on his side as they psychologically doubted their tactical game, and it may have been in his interests to wait until after the match to express his true feelings on the matter.
Lampard is a young manager learning his way, and in that regard, he is the complete opposite of the wily old Bielsa. An eccentric genius and a hero to some of the greatest tactical minds in the game at the present time, he is revered by those who have the ultimate respect for his work. They will accept his unethical actions as nothing more than a part of the DNA that forms the man known as 'El Loco'.
Will Bielsa behave in such a way again? Absolutely. But now that he understands what is acceptable and unacceptable in the British game, he will do it in a different way. We will never know how, but be assured that Bielsa will find a way of getting inside information on his opponents ahead of his next game. Bielsa is only sorry for the fact that he was caught.
There has been an outcry in the English media over his actions, but this has been fuelled by the fact that an England legend was at the receiving end of his unethical approach from a South American newcomer. Don't forget that this is the same media that revealed the tactical plans of England manager Gareth Southgate during the World Cup finals as a result of a badly positioned notebook.
In addition, Andre Villas-Boas previously revealed that while he was a part of Jose Mourinho's coaching staff at Chelsea, he would travel to the training grounds of the opposition, incognito. One of the beneficiaries of this insight was Lampard himself as he played an integral part in that era of success at Stamford Bridge. As a player, he may have been unaware but would have been unlikely to speak out against such action.
Unregulated scouting, spying, obtaining inside information. This is nothing new at any level of the game. It is not right, but it is not the biggest problem that the modern game has to deal with. If the tables had been turned, would Lampard face the same public condemnation in the English press as Bielsa has over the last couple of days? Unlikely.
Modern football needs more morality, honesty and integrity, but it also needs more people like Bielsa to be open and accountable for their actions. Leeds United, the Championship and English football has been blessed by the surprise arrival of one of the great tacticians. Although he will always divide opinion, there are far worse people damaging the integrity of the game at the present time than Bielsa.