Imagine, if you can, the following hypothetical: New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick directs one of his staff members to spy on an opposing team’s practice. He gets caught almost immediately, but instead of stonewalling the NFL’s investigation into the matter, he admits to his misdeeds and then gives reporters a PowerPoint demonstration showing exactly what he learned from the ill-gotten footage.
This obviously would never happen, because Belichick would sooner do the Floss at a news conference than reveal any of his team’s innermost secrets (legal or otherwise). But that’s exactly how a “Spygate”-style story out of England is playing out, one that bears at least a faint echo to the 2007 scandal involving the Patriots but at the same time is decidedly, absurdly different.
It’s like the difference between the British and U.S. versions of “The Office,” had the latter been about a paper company featuring a capable boss and motivated employees.
To recap: In 2007, the NFL discovered that the Patriots had videotaped the New York Jets' coaching signals from their own sideline during a September game and later learned that they had done the same thing in earlier contests. On its face, videotaping opposing signals is not banned by the league, but it must be done from designated areas. Despite Belichick’s claim that he merely misinterpreted the rule, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell fined Belichick $500,000, the largest financial sanction ever levied against a coach in NFL history (at least until Saints Coach Sean Payton forfeited $5.8 million of his $7.1 million salary during his 2012 suspension for the Bountygate scandal). The NFL also fined the Patriots $250,000 and took away their first-round pick in the 2008 draft.
Fast forward to the present day, where Leeds United Manager Marcelo Bielsa is facing scrutiny after he sent a staff member to observe a practice held by Derby County ahead of their match this past Friday. (Leeds scored a 2-0 victory between teams that toil in the Championship, English soccer’s second-tier division.) Not only has he admitted spying on Derby County, but he said Wednesday that he has surveilled all of his opponents.
“I observed all the rivals we played against — we watched all the training sessions before we played them,” he told reporters, per the Associated Press.
And then came perhaps the most remarkable PowerPoint presentation in sports history, one in which Bielsa revealed exactly what he had learned about his opponents through spying on them.
“I’m going to make it easier for the [English Football League] investigation,” he said. “I observed all the rivals we played against. We watched all the training sessions before we played them. … I assume the possible sanctions by the authorities.”
Bielsa — an Argentine aptly nicknamed “El Loco” — claimed he has done nothing illegal and that he has been publicly spying on his opponents since the qualifying process for the 2002 World Cup, where he failed to manage Argentina out of the knockout stage. He also said he was “ashamed,” but only because he had to reveal the information, yet also claimed that the spying was “absolutely not necessary.”
So why do it?
“Because we feel guilty if we don’t work enough,” he said. “Because it allows us not to have too much anxiety. And we think that by gathering information we feel we get closer to a win.
“In my case, it’s because I’m stupid enough to allow myself this kind of behavior.”
The English Football League announced Tuesday that it has launched an investigation into the incident after receiving a complaint from Derby County, saying Leeds’s “alleged actions appear to contravene the Club Charter that all EFL Clubs agreed to in summer 2018."
According to Yahoo’s Leander Schaerlaeckens, Tottenham Manager Mauricio Pochettino — a countryman of Bielsa — said spying on opponents is a common practice in Argentina.
“Here it is a little bit weird,” he said. “But in Argentina it happened — it is not a big issue or a big deal.”