For a man who had just been un-masked as a spy master running a series of agents embroiled in the murky, clandestine world of ’dark-ops’, Marcelo Bielsa cut a remarkably unconcerned technical area figure.
The former Argentina manager sees little wrong with snooping on opponents and right now this combination of coaching and reconnaissance seems unbeatable. Bielsa has led Leeds to the top of the Championship where they stand five points clear of second placed Norwich and 11 ahead of sixth placed Derby County.
To say Frank Lampard’s side were well beaten would be an understatement as goals from Kemar Roofe and Jack Harrison ensured erased memories of a mid-winter blip featuring two successive league defeats.
“We lost to the better team,” said Lampard. “There’s no doubt about that but…..” It was a big but too. This will forever be a fixture haunted by memories of the bitter rivalry between Don Revie and Brian Clough and revived some of the dirty tricks detailed in David Peace’s The Damned United.
Earlier in the day Derby announced that police had been called to their training ground on Thursday following reports of a man equipped with binoculars, wire cutters and camouflage clothing hovering suspiciously on its boundaries.
Bielsa admitted he had sent a member of his backroom staff to spy on Lampard’s preparations, revealing it was a ploy he had deployed ever since his days in charge of Argentina and Chile.
Unimpressed, Lampard indicated that he believed it was no coincidence that, shortly before his side lost 4-1 to Leeds at home earlier in the season, a man was spotted lurking in the bushes beside their training complex.
“I don’t think that, at any level of sport, it’s right to send men to break into private property,” said Derby’s manager afterwards. “It’s a cultural thing but I was very surprised by it – and by the frank admission he’s done it before. Cheating is a big word but this is over the line. I spent 15 hours watching tapes of Leeds game this week and that’s what the best managers do. I was a fan of Bielsa’s from afar but I’d rather not coach than send people undercover on their hands and knees in the undergrowth.”
If MI6 are unlikely to be poaching the “agent” Bielsa dispatched to Derby anytime soon; it rather begs the question as to how many other Championship rivals have been spied on since August?
Not that Lampard’s defence could use such dubious tactics as an excuse. That quartet should have conceded a penalty following Andre Wisdom’s foul on Ezgjan Alioski but, although the referee pointed to the spot a linesman had already flagged – controversially – for an offside against Alioski.
It was, though, merely a stay of execution. When Scott Carson could only punch Pablo Hernández’s corner toward Jack Clarke, the latter proceeded to sweep beyond Craig Bryson and deliver a superb right-wing cross. It found Roofe in the right place at the right time to lash a first time volley home.
Lampard stared at the ground. His players could barely get out of their own half and frequently seemed overwhelmed by the relentlessly high tempo of Leeds’ high pressing game. At times it was easy to imagine that Bielsa’s team had a couple of extra players on the pitch.
Derby were failing to fathom out the home side’s highly fluid formation – 4-1-4-1 one minute and 3-3-3-1 the next – and kaleidoscopic, opponent perplexing, positional rotation. Alioski not only alternated between left-back and midfield but occasionally centre forward too.
His side doubled their advantage at the outset of the second half. Once again Clarke provoked panic on the right and, once again, Carson made less than perfect contact as he misread his looping cross. The goalkeeper’s weak punch travelled only as far as Alioski who played it back in for Harrison to score from close range.
Spy-gate may be boiling up but Leeds show few signs of burning out. “I would accept any sanction the club or federation make against me,” said an unrepentant Bielsa. “I respect the morals of the country where I work but I won’t say I won’t do it again. I don’t think I’m a person that cheats. I have done this practice for many years. It’s legal in South America – and England too but it doesn’t provoke indignation in South America.”