Gary Rowett: Why I admire Bielsa for thinking outside the box

FORMER Stoke and Derby manager Gary Rowett says he admires Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa for “thinking outside the box” and “pushing the envelope”.

Leeds were fined £200,000 by the EFL in February after Bielsa admitted sending a ‘spy’ to observe Derby training ahead of the Championship game between the two sides in January.

What was not as widely reported was that Leeds had deployed coaches in the stands to give instructions to players during their opening game of the season, against Rowett’s Stoke, in August. The ploy was certainly unusual, although it is does not seem to have been against the rules.

Rowett told the Training Ground Guru Podcast: “I remember the first game of the season - they (Leeds) had coaches in the stands with microphones on giving information to the players. They picked it up on Sky.

“He (Bielsa) had coaching staff sat opposite the side the dug-outs were on - about three staff spaced out - and they were giving information to the players. Whenever they took a throw-in, they were giving some crucial information, I’d imagine.”

Rowett also said he privately admired the former Argentina and Chile coach for the ‘Spygate’ incident, even though he didn't say so publicly.

“What you had to admire was the fact he was thinking outside the box," Rowett said. "He was thinking differently to how a lot of people were thinking. He was trying to push the envelope a little bit. You didn’t want to say it publicly, because it looks like you’re condoning it.

“But what you have to acknowledge is he’s going to the lengths of detail some of us might not have thought about going to. Everybody got asked about it in a press conference - even the Premier League managers because of his reputation.

“There was a kind of answer you felt you had to give morally, that it was wrong to have done what they’d done. But there was a professional opinion behind the scenes - certainly that I had - you know what, he’s going to lengths maybe people won’t admit to going to. You think of marginal gains…”

Bielsa subsequently gave a press conference in which he revealed the work Leeds do on analysis ahead of games.

Joe Carnall, Rowett’s former Head of Tactical Analysis at Birmingham, Derby and Stoke, said: “People hadn’t seen it happening before, because football is quite closed off. In my opinion, he wasn’t trying to claim he was doing something other people aren’t doing, it was the reverse. He was saying this isn’t out of the ordinary.”

Rowett admitted he didn’t mind Bielsa giving the presentation - but insisted he and his team also did cutting-edge analysis at Derby and Stoke.

“For me, analysis is getting huge,” he said. “We’ve been labelled in the past as a group as perhaps having old-fashioned values, but I think some of the things we’ve done have been more advanced than a lot of people would understand.

“Things like predicting certain things on the pitch - when players are starting to fatigue, predicting certain patterns around possession, where opportunities to attack and spaces are. You can do a lot of that on data.

“Of course data is never going to replace the human eye and instinct for the game, but it can support your decision making. We’ve spoken about rather than having three coaches on the bench - because you can get live physical and tactical data coming in - maybe we’ll have Joe (Carnall) sitting on the bench next time.

“In other sports I’d imagine they are doing that already. Ultimately, you can give the manager not just your opinion, but an objective analysis of exactly what is going on. Thats where it’s starting to get more and more important.

“Because you can have that live feed on the bench, you can make those in game interventions based on what you know is happening rather than what you think is happening.

“Some of the things we were doing at Derby, because of the tech we had available, was light years ahead of what we were doing at Birmingham.”

Rowett’s former Head of Performance, Dave Carolan, added: “For Leeds, we were using live GPS at that game and I was immediately able to tell the manager we had a couple of players that were so far below the level they needed to be and we were able to use that innovation to hopefully impact the game.”

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