Rather than attacking Marcelo Bielsa for using every advantage to win, confused critics should note that Leeds United are top of the Championship table for a reason
English football was shaken to its core on Wednesday, when Leeds United’s Marcelo Bielsa made the bombshell revelation that studying your opponents before playing them makes it easier to win football matches. It’s worth noting that Leeds are currently four points clear at the top of the English Championship.
The world’s media (well, all right, a handful of Yorkshire-based sports reporters) were summoned to Leeds’ training ground, to hear Bielsa’s hot take on last week’s “Spy Gate” scandal, when it was revealed Leeds had spied on their promotion rivals Derby County before beating them 2-0.
The police were called to Derby’s training ground over reports a man had been acting “suspiciously,” in the build-up to the match.
Voluntarily spending any time at all in Derby is inherently dubious, but it turned out the suspect was a scout from Leeds, prompting ex-Arsenal defender Martin Keown to say he thought football’s moral code had been “severely breached.” Pundit Stan Collymore delivered a lecture on integrity and said Bielsa’s argument that there were cultural differences between England and Argentina was “frankly-bollocks.”
Even England legend Stuart Pearce said he thought the points should have been given to Derby. Some of English football’s less demented pundits like Gary Lineker and Michael Owen defended Bielsa and his Argentine compatriot Mauricio Pochettino pointed out that this kind of scouting had been going on in Argentina for at least thirty years, but when the media arrived on Wednesday evening it was rumoured Bielsa was on the brink of resignation.
Instead he explained, via an interpreter, that he hadn’t just spied on Derby. He’d spied on everyone, because, guess what, it turns out it’s not illegal.
“I’m going to make it easier for the investigation of the league,” said Bielsa. “I observed all the rivals we played against and we watched all the training sessions of the opponents before we played against them.”
? | Marcelo now walks the press through video analysis of an opponent’s offensive actions, explaining how it totals 40 minutes, which is then broken down into 8 minute clips for the players pic.twitter.com/juLwE0NEGo
— Leeds United (@LUFC) January 16, 2019
Having wrong-footed his critics, Bielsa spent the next seventy minutes delivering what was described as a “tactical masterclass,” according to journalists who’d almost certainly never attended any kind of class on tactics before and would therefore have no idea whether it was masterful or not.
“When you watch, when you observe an opponent you are looking for specific information,” he said. “You are looking for the starting 11, you want to know what is the tactical system that is going to be used, and the strategic decision taken on set pieces. This is the three main axis that the head coaches usually analyses.”
He used a powerpoint presentation. He displayed graphics with nice colours and pleasingly shaped arrows. In a neat historical echo he even had old-fashioned dossiers, conjuring memories of his distant predecessor Don Revie, architect of the “Dirty Leeds” sides of the sixties and seventies, a man who not only produced entirely legal dossiers on opposition players but also saw nothing wrong in less legal methods, like offering referees hospitality and inducing rivals to “go easy” on his players.
The real PR masterstroke was in conveying a sense of professionalism.
Marcelo Bielsa should've finished the press conference by finally explaining how Lampard and Gerrard can play in the same midfield together.
— Miriti Murungi (@NutmegRadio) January 16, 2019
“Of each opponent we watched all of the games of the season 2017-18,” Bielsa said. “So we watch the 51 games of Derby County. We watched them. The analysis of each game takes four hours of work. Why did we do that? Because we think this is professional behaviour. It is to try to avoid being ignorant of the competition we are playing in.”
Well before the end of the press conference it became obvious that Bielsa was becoming a social media phenomenon, as loved by neutrals as Revie was despised by them.
“What does he know about the championship does he know about Rotherham on a cold Tuesday night?” asked another of Bielsa’s predecessors, Steve Evans, when the Argentine was appointed. The answer, it turned out, was a lot more than Evans, a man who made Revie look like Mahatma Gandhi, ever could.