Derby County manager Frank Lampard described Marcelo Bielsa’s pre-match conduct as “unethical” after Leeds United beat the Rams to go five points clear at the top of the Championship.
Whites boss Bielsa admitted sending a member of his staff to watch Derby train on Thursday, a story that dominated the build-up to the game and one the Football Association is now investigating.
Kemar Roofe’s near-post flick and Jack Harrison’s tap-in gave the dominant hosts victory in a predictably frantic and feisty contest at Elland Road.
Lampard refused to use the pre-match ‘spygate’ saga as an excuse for his side’s performance – but said “it has to be dealt with”.
“For me, it’s not right,” he told BBC Radio 5 live. “I’m a big fan from afar of Bielsa, I’ve got his book at home in my front room, but that’s slightly clouded it for me today.
“I’ve never heard of going to a training ground on your hands and knees with pliers trying to break into private land to watch.
“But I don’t attribute our performance to it because that’s on us.”
Derbyshire Police said officers were called to Derby’s training ground on Thursday morning and a man was spoken to at the perimeter fence, but no arrests were made.
‘I don’t feel I cheated’
Both before and after the match Bielsa reiterated that “the responsibility for this lies with me” and insisted nobody from Leeds had given him permission to ‘spy’ on Derby’s training session.
But the Argentine, who said he’d been carrying out the practice for “many years”, denied it was “immoral”.
“I understand Frank Lampard is angry because he thinks I’m someone who is cheating,” he said. “I understand he draws this conclusion.
“But I don’t feel I cheated because my goal was not to get an illegal advantage.
“I can explain my behaviour but my intention is not to be understood or to justify it. I have to respect the norms in the country where I work.”
Leeds outclass Lampard’s Rams
The Whites, now five points clear of second-placed Norwich and seven above Sheffield United in third, had lost both of their previous two league matches.
But, regardless of any tactical advantage gained, they were by far the better team against the Rams, who they had beaten 4-1 in Lampard’s first home game as a manager in August.
The opening minute of Friday’s game was every bit as controversial as the 24 hours that had preceded it, with Leeds’ Ezgjan Alioski blatantly fouled in the box only for the linesman’s flag to be raised – incorrectly – for offside in the build-up.
It was only a sign of things to come for Lampard’s side, however, and they went behind midway through the first half when Roofe converted 18-year-old Jack Clarke’s low cross.
Clarke, impressive throughout, also played a hand in the second goal – although Derby keeper Scott Carson will feel he should have done better before Harrison was allowed to slot into an empty net.