Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa took the extraordinary step of instructing his team to allow Aston Villa to score an uncontested goal in Sunday’s Championship clash, despite needing a win to secure automatic promotion.
- Leeds United allowed Aston Villa to score unopposed after scoring when Aston Villa had a player down injured
- Playing on when an opponent is down injured is frowned upon in English football
- Leeds needed to win to gain automatic promotion, but drew 1-1 and will now go into the playoffs
Leeds scored the opening goal against Aston Villa in its Championship game while Villa had striker Jonathan Kodjia down injured.
Villa players were incensed by Leeds’ decision to not kick the ball out of play to allow treatment for the player, instantly sparking a series of on-field melees.
Earlier, Aston Villa had played the ball out to allow Leeds player Adam Forshaw to receive treatment when it was on the attack earlier in the game, adding to the feeling of injustice felt by the visiting players.
Play was halted for close to five minutes amidst the chaotic scenes in front of 36,786 at the historic Elland Road.
In the middle of the delay, Villa had Anwar El Ghazi sent off for violent conduct, with replays showing that Patrick Bamford had not been touched by the Villa player.
However, during the chaos, the enigmatic Argentine coach told his players to let Villa equalise, leading to the bizarre sight of Albert Adomah running from halfway through the Leeds team and scoring into an empty net, amidst an increasing cacophony of boos from the parochial home support.
Only Swedish defender Pontus Jansson tried to stop Adomah with a half-hearted attempt at the back, the Swedish defender clearly furious over being forced to concede.
Despite the incredible gesture, the Aston Villa bench — featuring former Socceroo captain Mile Jedinak — was still unhappy, with Bielsa exchanging some heated words with Villa assistant manager John Terry, the former Chelsea captain, on the touchline after the goal was scored.
To add to the drama, Leeds needed to win to keep its hopes of securing automatic promotion alive, but the match finished 1-1.
Bielsa’s side will now attempt to negotiate the playoffs, with Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United joining Norwich in gaining automatic promotion.
“What happened, happened. And we behaved as we behaved,” Bielsa said.
“That’s all I can say about something which is very clear.”
Asked if he had instructed his players to allow Villa’s equaliser in the interests of fair play or simply to help restore order, Bielsa said: “I don’t understand the difference.
“I don’t see any difference … you make a difference between fair play and the circumstances of the game, but for me, it’s the same.
“English football is known around the world for its noble features of how we play.”
‘It’s remarkable from Marcelo Bielsa’
Kicking the ball out when a player is injured is one of the unwritten rules in football and is regarded as a sporting gesture, although recently the onus has been placed on the referee to only intervene and stop play in the event of a head injury.
Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was one of the high-profile figures to praise Leeds United for the gesture, outlining that although Leeds were acting within the law, allowing Aston Villa to score was a “remarkable gesture”.
“They [Leeds] are playing to come up to the Premier League and there is something at stake,” Wenger said.
“It’s totally remarkable and the whole world has to watch that.
“The rules [state] that the players should not stop if there is no head injury,” Wenger continued, outlining the rules as they currently stand.
“Only the referee can stop the game.
“Aston Villa should not have stopped play. Leeds took advantage of it and that is where they were guilty.
“It is a kind of fair play that is usually on the football pitch.
“Only the ref can stop the game but it’s remarkable from Marcelo Bielsa.”
Sheffield United, the other beneficiaries of Bielsa’s incredibly charitable gesture, also paid credit to the Argentine coach’s actions, with Blades coach Chris Wilder paying credit as his team celebrated promotion.
“Absolutely 100 per cent credit to Marcelo Bielsa,” Wilder said.
“He’s a true football man and he made that right call. Obviously it’s gone against them, but it was the right call.”
The replayed FA Cup tie
Wenger has some history with this type of situation from his time as Arsenal coach.
In a 1999 FA Cup tie against, coincidentally, Sheffield United, Wenger offered to replay the tie after his side beat the Blades thanks to a contentious goal scored by Nwanko Kanu.
Kanu ran onto a throw intended for the Sheffield United defence after United kicked the ball out to allow an Arsenal player to be treated, before squaring to Marc Overmars who scored what would become the winner in a 2-1 victory.
With Steve Bruce threatening to take his players off the Highbury pitch before reluctantly playing out the rest of the game, Wenger averted the crisis by offering to replay the game 10 days later (which Arsenal incidentally won 2-1).
The Football Association allowed the game to be replayed, applying the “unsporting behaviour” rule.
Arsenal v Sheffield United FA Cup