Do The Right Thing… But was it?

Bielsa instructed his players to allow Aston Villa to score. Was it the right move?There were extraordinary scenes at Elland Road this weekend during a game between Leeds United and Aston Villa. It was a high-pressure game, with Leeds in position to qualify for automatic promotion to the Premier League had they won. Neither side had managed to score as the game reached the 71st minute, at which point something extraordinary happened.

The most UNBELIEVABLE scenes in football history?! | Leeds let Villa score after controversial goal!

SUBSCRIBE ► Is this arguably the most controversial sequence of play in football history? Leeds United score whilst Aston Villa’s Jonathan Kodjia is down injured, causing a mass brawl between the players. In a shocking turn of events, Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa makes his team let Aston Villa equalise.

The incident can be summarised as follows: Aston Villa striker Jonathan Kodjia went down after a clash with Leeds’ Liam Cooper, and stayed down. Despite the total lack of referee’s whistle, Villa players began to slow down and remonstrate with both the ref and Tyler Roberts, the Leeds wing currently in possession of the ball.

Here’s where things get a little sketchy. Surrounded by Villa players with their arms out like he was about to drive a tank across the 34th Annual Aston Villa Widows & Orphans Sunday School picnic, Roberts passed the ball up the wing. You would be forgiven, looking at Roberts’ body language and the gentle tap he gave the ball, that he was knocking the ball out of play. The surrounding Aston Villa players certainly seemed to think that was what was happening but instead, the ball ended up at the feet of Leeds’ midfielder Matheusz Klich. Klich turned toward the box and fired off a shot which curled past the keeper’s outstretched left hand and into the net for a goal that might have clinched their promotion.

Klich was immediately surrounded by furious Villa players and everything stopped for five minutes while officials and staff on both sides attempted to calm things down. At the restart, and in full accordance with Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa’s explicit bellowed instructions, Leeds players stood aside and allowed Villa to equalise. Well, most of them. A clearly baffled Pontus Jansson made a brief attempt to defend (which further infuriated Villa players) but the equaliser was scored by Albert Adomah. During the confusion, Anwar Ghazi was sent off and both Patrick Bamford and Conor Hourihane were booked. Coaching staff from both teams were up in arms, which led to the delicious spectacle of John Terry, Villa’s Head Coach, gesticulating wildly in the name of sportsman-like behaviour and fair play. Oh, and elsewhere, Sheffield United won their game and therefore automatic promotion.

There are several points of contention during these crazy five minutes, so let’s look at them in order. The first is the challenge by Jonathan Kodjia on Liam Cooper. By all accounts, this is a foul. He comes in behind Cooper, there’s no danger of any contact with the ball and either as a result of an injury sustained in the attempt or to put the referee off awarding a free kick against him, Kodjia goes down and stays there. In all the confusion that followed, Kodjia was substituted. No one has yet stated the extent of Kodjia’s injuries and yet manager Dean Smith – who claims he has yet to speak with his striker – feels sure that it won’t be too bad.

The chances are that Kodjia is not injured at all. Under other circumstances, Kodjia would probably have got up, carried on and no one would have paid the slightest bit of notice. On the day, the sight of Kodjia getting sheepishly to his feet and playing on would not have fitted into Villa’s narrative of outraged grief for a fallen soldier. So, off the field he went and no doubt he will be keeping a very low profile until all this blows over.

The second question is whether all the cards were justified or not. In Anwar El Ghazi’s case, the card has already been rescinded. Replays have shown minimal contact (if any) with Patrick Bamford, who pulled a classic footballing move in response. Honestly, we’ve seen so much of this sort of play-acting over the years that it’s not even funny (though it is pretty hilarious). It’s this mentality which is at the heart of the problem here. Going down ‘injured’ when you’re not happens dozens of times in every game. Almost everyone does it, everyone knows why people do it and the referee very rarely does anything about it. The concept of ‘gentlemanly conduct’ has been stretched for some time; here we see it reach breaking point.

Finally, there’s the question of whether Marcelo Bielsa did the right thing in instructing his players to step aside and allow Villa to score. Many have praised him for his sense of fair play, but if Leeds end up not making promotion this year, a good deal of those same people will be forced to rapidly reappraise the situation. Clearly it did go some way to diffusing the situation (despite Jansson’s best efforts) but was it the smart move? Or did Leeds allow themselves to get played by Villa?

There’s a very telling line in the clip above. Just after the original incident, the commentator notes “Kodjia down. No recognised striker on the bench.” Villa were obviously concerned for the fate of their player and therefore attempted to force Leeds to put the ball out of play. There was no referee’s whistle, and as noted above, Kodjia was on the ground as a result of his own reckless foul. Why on earth would Leeds go along with that? Many have complained about the soft pass from Roberts that made it perhaps appear as if he was kicking the ball out. If Roberts was being sneaky, then so what? The situation is made trickier by the fact that 10 minutes beforehand, Villa had kicked the ball out of play due to an apparent injury to a Leeds player.

Bamford’s simulation is certainly not to be applauded, but it happens enough to be an established part of the game. If Villa are claiming to be paragons of virtue, who is the Villa player on the floor at 0.39 in the clip above? They don’t stay there, so clearly they’re not hurt – why then go to ground in the first place? One of the rare few to come out of this mess looking even slightly good is Marcelo Bielsa. Leeds and Villa will meet again in the play-offs, which is certain to be a spicy affair based on the events of this weekend, but Bielsa may yet come to rue his decision to be a good guy, especially if Leeds don’t make it.

What do you think – did Bielsa make the right decision or not? Let us know on social media.