Tuesday 16 July 2019

Stephen Hunt: 'There's no need for a points deduction, Leeds' revival is the priority'

Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa
Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa

Stephen Hunt

I've lost count of the number of times I was quizzed by coaches and managers in the build-up to a fixture against an Irish team-mate. "Is your mate playing? Is he fit?" In other words, give him a ring and see what you can find out about their team.

And quite often if I was playing a good friend, former team-mate or an Ireland international colleague, I'd give them a ring from the team hotel the night before the game and just come straight out with it. "What's the team then?"

I played against Paul Green and a few Leeds United teams over the years and I'm sure I'll have made that pre-match call to glean information and find out if he was selected, then passed that on to the manager and his staff. And he will have done the same.

Every manager will have a pretty good idea what his opposite number is thinking with regard to team selection. They all have contacts gathering information to supply them with the probable team because it could affect his own selections. Are they playing the pacey striker and the robust centre-back or the robust striker and the pacey centre-back? Which do I go with?

Sometimes they will be supplied with a probable team which is way off the mark and they can't all be right. Until that team-sheet lands in the dressing room an hour before kick-off, it is still guesswork. Just well-researched guesswork.

I'm sure Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa wasn't that bothered about Frank Lampard's alleged team selection when he sent his spy to Derby's training ground earlier this month. He was looking for details on their set-pieces.

That's not the sort of detail you're going to get from an old pal chatting away in your hotel room. And while videos of team's set-pieces in matches are readily available, it is the attention to detail and instructions from the training ground which are key here.

For example, if a team are going to play a short corner, they will have a selected shouted command to get them into position. If your opponents know what that command is, they immediately close off that option.

If Bielsa has advance information on his opponents' set-piece routines, then he could work on that prior to the games. It's all very well the manager having valuable information, but that is no guarantee he will be able to put it to good use with all his players.

The only downside is that there are always two or three players who work repetitively on free-kicks and corners on a Friday morning, but you know it is going in one ear and out the other and they will have forgotten all of it by the time the game starts. I could name a few from my playing days but they know who they are!

It is obvious Derby knew the spies were turning up, so why didn't they have a bit of fun at Leeds' expense? Frank Lampard could have picked a totally different team - centre-backs up front, goalkeeper in midfield, strikers at the back - and had a laugh about it, then sent him on his way and reported him to the police, EFL and the FA.

I have been impressed with Lampard so far. I like the way he manages the team, makes substitutions and has a feel-good factor around a club which plays under pressure every week because of the level of expectation among fans. And as they proved against Southampton in the FA Cup, Derby are a good side.

But he needs to let this go now and let the FA and/or EFL take action. Perhaps he is doing a Jose Mourinho and moaning and going over the top about it to deflect attention away from his players and the fact that his team lost.

And it's wrong of rival teams to call for a points deduction, especially those closer to Leeds at the top of the table. A hefty fine and warning will suffice.

Bielsa is wrong, but it is easy to pick on him because he doesn't speak English yet. If Sean Dyche had done this, they would say he was a tactical genius.

When Bielsa was appointed, there was a great deal of excitement that a top-class coach was going to transform Leeds. And so far he has delivered.

He was wrong to send spies to the training grounds but it should be left to the FA to decide on the appropriate action because the EFL and Premier League both want Leeds United among their number. A points deduction would have enormous consequences for the whole of the Championship and the FA are the independent body who can decide on a proportionate punishment.

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