Leeds United were imperious against Derby County two weeks ago. Despite the Rams knowing Leeds United’s line-up in advance, there was nothing they could do to cope in a thumping 2-0 loss.
They were played off the park in resounding style, simply played off the park. No excuses should be offered. But they were.
Ahead of the game broke news that a Leeds United member of staff had been caught loitering outside Derby County’s training ground. This individual was spoken to by the police, before being moved on.
Derby County manager Frank Lampard said the person in question had binoculars and a set of pliers; Spygate was born. Aside from spawning a set of Leeds United decals poking fun at the incident, it has also spawned controversy.
Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa then gave a coaching press briefing, illustrating the depth of his methods, as well as casually dropping into the conversation that the Whites had spied on EVERY opponent to press.
The urine boiling was set to maximum and there was much anger. This all resulted in 11 of Leeds’ Championship opponents penning a letter to the EFL. In it they were asking a series of questions, questions that aimed to delve into the situation and drag blame towards the Whites as a club.
This caused EFL chairman Shaun Harvey, a former Leeds United CEO and director, to speak to radio station talkSPORT. Here’s the meat of what he said.
Shaun Harvey snippets – wheat but no chaff?
“If clubs want an anti-espionage rule, there’s no reason why it can’t happen.”
“We’re expecting a response from Leeds, we’ll get this concluded ASAP.”
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) January 25, 2019
“When you look at the different reactions of clubs and media and supporters, half say ‘good on you’. The other half say (‘it’s outrageous’) so we’re in this situation depending on where your personal view falls. What’s interesting, as was revealed by one of the national newspapers, is that 11 clubs have asked for some more specific information and I think they’re quite within their rights to want to do that.”
“Ultimately the rules of the EFL are decided by the clubs. The executive – we perform a function to help the clubs achieve a set of rules around the competition that they want in place. If the majority of clubs want to put in effectively an anti-espionage rule then there’s no reason why that can happen.”
“Any club can make any recommendation for any rule. It only goes onto the books if the majority of clubs support it. The reality is with where we are, and this is a matter of public record, there was no specific rule that we have which says you cannot review another club’s training sessions. There is the principle around acting in good faith towards each other and the question is, has that been broken?”
Wheat or chaff – which is it?
Shuan Harvey’s own words (above) confirm that no ‘rule’ has effectively been broken. Yes there’s all this ‘oh but it’s broken a good faith principle’, but that’s a ‘principle’. It hasn’t been codified to the level that it is a rule, a rule whose infringement brings about punishment.
Harvey did say that clubs could ask for specific rule changes, and that is fair enough; let them do that. But, as it stands, Leeds United and Marcelo Bielsa have broken no rules, not even one. Which brings me to my next point – punishment.
Let’s be frank about it, if no current rules have been broken then no punishments can exist. The EFL would surely open up a huge can of worms should they try to apply retrospective punishment based on a posteriori thinking. So all this talk of ‘points deductions’ and/or ‘lengthy bans’ are vaporous, hot air blown from the southern exit if you want it dressed up a little.
Wheat or chaff? It’s definitely the latter and time to move on before Spygate turns into football’s 2019 version morphs into something akin to the 1692/93 Salem witch hunts.
Spygate? Mild controversy at worst, hot air at best. Still, time to move on.
Transcript for Shaun Harvey comments courtesy of Yorkshire Evening Post. Read their article here.