Dave Seddon's Preston North End pressview: Spying on training sessions goes against the spirit of competition

Lancashire Post chief football writer Dave Seddon has his say on '˜Spygate'

Saturday, 19th January 2019, 8:30 am
Leeds United's Ezgjan Alioski pushes past Preston Ben Davies and Darnel Fisher when the two sides met in the Championship earlier in the season

Could you imagine if a year ago someone had sat you down and tried to convince you of the details of ‘Spygate’ which would unravel in the first couple of weeks of 2019.

You would dismiss it as the words of the pub bore, the know-it-all who spends too much time listening to gossip and treating it as the gospel truth.

“The former Argentina coach will take over as Leeds head coach, watch matches sat on an upturned bucket, send his staff to spy on other clubs training sessions and then present a 66-minute power point presentation to justify it all.”

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Course that will happen mate, now leave me alone to finish my pint.

Quite amazingly, spying on training sessions and the invite to the media to listen to Marcelo Biesla admit it all in extreme detail has filled column inches, the airways and football’s news agenda this week.

Bielsa held his hand up and confessed that members of his staff have been at a Championship club’s training ground near you at some point since August.

If we are to take him at his absolute word, someone on the Leeds payroll prowled the perimeter of Preston North End’s Springfields practice pitches both in late August and September ahead of PNE meeting the Peacocks in Carabao Cup and then Championship action.

‘Spies’ were dispatched too from Middlesbrough to Ipswich, from Swansea to Wigan, as part of Bielsa’s eye for detail in preparing for matches.

Not content with the more traditional methods of scouting games in person or putting in the hours in front of the laptop, Bielsa wanted to see upcoming opposition train too.

He wanted to see the shape teams were trying out, who was playing where, which players were looking sharp in training.

Is that cheating, a break of the rules or pushing beyond the boundaries of the spirit of the game?

I would lean towards the latter category, it against the spirit of competition.

Teams should have the right to prepare privately on the training pitch.

What they then put into action in a game is there for all to see, to be judged on, to ultimately succeed or fail.

All clubs employ scouts and teams of analysts to study in some detail what their opponents might or might not try.

They have got hours and hours of footage available at their fingertips to try and cover every angle.

So watching a team go through their paces seems to be pushing things a bit too far and is also unnecessary.

Bielsa himself admitted he learned little from the training ground snooping, it being his own insecurity which made this particular angle be covered.

You have got to admire Bielsa for the job he has done so far at Leeds, in turning a bang average mid-table side into one which leads the Championship by four points heading into this weekend.

He’s a bit different than your standard head coach, with an impressive CV.

It begs the question of why the need to push to the limits like this?

There has been a varying reaction to the revelations, so too to how Bielsa called an impromptu press conference to explain himself – not to apologise it must be said.

We got PNE boss Alex Neil’s views on the subject on Thursday morning at his briefing to look ahead to the visit to QPR.

Once the usual talk of hamstrings and the transfer window was over, Neil was asked how he saw things and how it should be dealt with.

Slightly ‘underhand’ was his description for Bielsa’s voyeur behaviour and only a ‘wee rap on the knuckles’ was needed to remind the Leeds boss of his responsibilities.

What Neil seemed more bemused by was how we had lapped-up the power point presentation from Bielsa in how he scouted opposition and studied them in so much detail.

He felt that was pretty much standard across the game these days, Neil a man who spends hours and hours sat in the analysts room at Springfields poring over footage of who North End are playing next.

If you have a quick read round, other managers took a similar tone when giving their thoughts.

Ultimately, managers and coaches can present as much information and dossiers as they want but come 3pm or 7.45pm, it is down to players to put the plans into action.

Whether Bielsa continues to have his people hiding in the bushes, we’ll have to see.

For the record, North End next play Leeds in April.

Springfields’ location means Bielsa would not need to send his top undercover man over the Pennines.

The Guild Wheel runs down the side of the pitches while the fairways of Ashton and Lea Golf Club present a grandstand view.

News does seem to spread fast from PNE, maybe due to where Springfields is.

When Alan Browne tweaked a hamstring in training the day before they played Aston Villa, news was doing the rounds on social media before he had sat down on the treatment table!

Final word on Bielsa, in all likelihood he will take Leeds to the Premier League on merit – he doesn’t need to stoop to being underhand.