19-year-old French youth international goalkeeper Illan Meslier discusses his surprise move to Leeds United with L’Équipe.
You have just come out of your first season as a starter for Lorient. Why have you decided to leave the Brittany club so early?
A new coach came in (Christophe Pelissier) and he made a decision (to make Paul Nardi #1). What Lorient were offering me was no longer adequate in terms of my personal objectives and so I decided to leave.
Why did you choose to move to England and Leeds in particular?
When the Leeds representatives knew that I was not going to be starting on the first day of the season, they made an enquiry and they came to see me. After 10 years with Lorient, I told myself that this might be the right moment to go see something else, for a year or more, to leave my comfort zone.
The fact that Leeds’ manager is Marcelo Bielsa – did that make a difference?
Obviously, he is a truly fantastic coach. I was able to follow a little bit of what he did at Marseille and that gave me desire to live through being coached by him, to learn under his guidance, to train daily with him.
He is very insistent about the goalkeeper being the first playmaker in his sides. Is that going to enable you to enlarge your skillset?
I think that I have the characteristics to play in this way. When I was under the management of Régis Le Bris, in the reserve team, he was already asking that of me, but it will certainly be interesting to do this with him (Bielsa).
You trained for the first time this Thursday. Were you able to speak with Marcelo Bielsa?
No not yet, he was orchestrating the session, but I spoke a fair amount with Marcos (Abad), the goalkeeping coach. He told me that I needed to get used to my new environment and that we would fix objectives together for the season. I was able to see that there is a lot of intensity, impact, even in training.
You departure was not necessarily planned. Do you feel ready to play in the Championship, for a mythical club like Leeds?
I am not putting myself under any pressure, the club is not doing so either. I am here to discover things, to grow. There is a passionate fanbase here, a stadium that is full, so that motivates me absolutely. I was already warned that there is a whole different level of intensity in England, that referees do not give calls in the favour of goalkeepers much, so I am going to have to get used to it.
Do you have the build for it…
If I put on a few more kilos, it won’t hurt!