Pep Guardiola virtually passed it off with a shrug.
Roy Hodgson was incredulous.
Steven Gerrard called for a rule change.
‘Spygate’ is the talk of English soccer, and there seems to be no consensus among managers — young and old; British or from abroad — about how it should be regarded.
Marcelo Bielsa, one of the world’s most famous and respected coaches, sparked the discussion last week when he admitted to sending an intern from his second-tier club Leeds to watch an opponent’s training session before a game.
The 63-year-old Argentine said he’d carried out this practice throughout his career and didn’t see the problem with it.
Bielsa and Leeds are being investigated by the English Football Association as well as the English Football League, which governs the professional leagues below the Premier League, where Bielsa is striving to return his club after a 15-year absence.
And there’s been no shortage of opinion from within the game.
Guardiola, the coach of English champion Manchester City, was asked on Friday if he’d ever spied on an opponent in his distinguished managerial career at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Without answering the question directly, Guardiola said everyone was up to it.
“When I was training at Bayern Munich, there were people in the little mountains with cameras, opponents watching what we do,” he recounted, shaping his fingers like he was holding a pair of binoculars. “Everyone does that. It’s a culture for the clubs. Not just for the previous ones I was at, or now, or in the future. It was part of the clubs — not because I said, ‘You have to do that, you have to go to do that.'”
Guardiola said it was more difficult to watch opponents train in England because the practice fields are typically “private and closed,” but that “in every country I have been, everybody does it.”
“The truth is everybody wants to know everything about their opponents. Not just in football but society. Everybody spies on everybody. In society, if you want to know what’s happening in the private life, or the gossip, of this person, this man or woman, everyone is curious about what the other people do.”
In this most recent case involving Bielsa, a club intern arrived at Derby County’s training center the day before a game against Leeds and reportedly had in his possession a pair of binoculars and a change of clothes. Police were called in following reports of a man “acting suspiciously outside the premises” and he was removed from the property. Bielsa later acknowledged the intern was acting on his orders.
The manager of Derby, former England midfielder Frank Lampard, was angry about Bielsa’s behavior. Failing to accept the incident as simply a difference of cultures, Lampard said it was tantamount to cheating.
“Spying on someone who does not want you to be spying on them, who does not want you to be watching what they are doing, how that can even be considered to be justifiable is amazing to me,” said the former England manager, who is in charge of Premier League team Crystal Palace. “I thought we had situations in this country where we talked about bringing the game into disrepute.”
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said on Friday it was important “the last two sessions” for teams before a match should be kept private, while Gerrard — Lampard’s former England teammate and now manager of Scottish side Rangers — said the “powers-that-be need to adapt the rules and get something in place for this kind of behavior.”
Perhaps most stringent with his views has been former England player Stuart Pearce, who called for the scoreline between Leeds and Derby — Leeds won 2-0 — to be reversed.
“It’s not right and proper, from whatever country you come from,” Pearce said, “… we’ve not seen anything as clear-cut as this before.”
Then again, Rafa Benitez almost laughed off the story on Friday, saying such spying was “common.”
Even Tony Pulis, a 60-year-old manager and veteran of 27 years in British soccer management, said “it’s always gone on” and that “it’s absolutely ridiculous to think Bielsa is the only manager in the world who is doing this.”
The coach with the most laissez-faire approach arguably was Graham Potter, the Swansea manager who recently arrived from coaching in Swedish soccer at Ostersund.
“I have no problem with it,” he said. “If somebody has the resources and wants to get in a car and watch us train, it’s not something I’m too bothered about.”