Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa insisted he was not a cheat, but accepted responsibility for the “spygate” saga that dominated headlines before and after the big game with Derby County.
The Elland Road club had been accused of having a representative at the Derby training ground watching their training session in the build-up to last night’s Sky Bet championship match.
After the game, which United won 2-0, Bielsa took sole responsibility for what happened at the training session, but said he would not apologise for sending a member of his staff to watch his opponents in training.
He admitted it was a long-standing practice and allowed in other counties, like Argentina where he comes off and refused to say whether he would now stop it.
The Football Association is now to investigate after police were called to Derby’s training complex following complaints of a man with binoculars acting suspiciously outside the perimeter fence.
Some within football are calling for a points deduction for Leeds, but it is unclear if it is actually a football offence and no arrest was made at the training ground.
Bielsa, meanwhile, revealed that he phoned Derby manager Frank Lampard directly on Thursday to tell the former England midfielder that he had sanctioned the scouting trip, but that call was “not to apologise”, simply to explain.
In a long press conference at Elland Road Bielsa explained to journalists:
“I’m the only one responsible for this situation. I don’t involve the club in it because I didn’t ask the club for permission.
“I can explain my behaviour but I don’t justify it because I have to respect the norms that are applied in the country I work in.
I started doing it in the qualifications for the World Cup with Argentina and Chile. It’s something legal in South America and in England too.
“The club did not know. I called Frank Lampard to tell him it was true and I was responsible for the situation.
“In South America when this becomes public it doesn’t provoke the same indignation it provokes in England. In South America, like in England, when we find out that someone is watching the training session, we ask him to leave.
“I don’t think you should be condemned or sentenced because you go and watch a training session. If you watch a training session from a public space, it’s not illegal and you don’t get condemned by the police. I don’t feel like I’m someone who cheated.
“I understand that Frank Lampard is angry because he thinks I’m someone who is cheating. I understand that he draws this kind of conclusion but I don’t think I cheated because my goal was not to get an illegal advantage.
“I have to respect the point of view of English football about this practice but I don’t think I’m an immoral person.”
Bielsa said that Lampard had not accepted his explanation.
He added: “He told me that I violated the fair play rules. I didn’t call him to apologise. I called him to tell him that I was responsible and that the facts actually happened. He was direct in his answer and I respect that.
“I would accept any sanction that the club takes against me, I would accept any sanction that the federation takes against me and I would accept the judgement of Derby County and Frank Lampard.
“But the only thing I will apologise for is contaminating a football game with this subject.
“I have a duty to understand a reaction like this in this country.
“When I was at Atletico Bilbao all the training sessions were public. For me the information you get from a training session is not so significant.
“As head coaches we have more information than we can analyse.
“To sum up I am the only one responsible and I must respect the country I am in.
Derby boss Lampard had no complaints over the result, but was still unhappy with the spying affair.
He said: “Leeds are a fantastic team and the better side from minute one to minute 90.
“They pressed us and we went away from what we have been doing all season and keep playing our football.
“After our performance I need to draw a line between that and what happened (on the training ground).
“If it’s a cultural thing I would be surprised. I was more angry about our performance. I was more surprised by the frank admission.
“If you talk about details and gaining advantages, great managers do that but this one is over the line. It’s not just a toe over the line. It’s a hop, skip and a jump over the line as far as I’m concerned.
“It’s not for me to say what happens. I believe it’s not absolutely clear what the rules are, but we can’t open the door to this happening every week. What kind of farce would that be, of everybody sending undercover people, drones to training? It would be farcical. Something has to be done. I just don’t know what it is.
“I was a fan of Bielsa’s from the past and I’ve got his book at home, but it’s not the way I do things. If that’s it I don’t like it. I’d rather not coach than send people undercover, on their hands and knees with bolt cutters.”