'Football is a religion in Leeds!' – Meslier hails 'crazy' fans as he waits for first-team opportunity

The on-loan teenager is yet to make a first-team appearance for Marcelo Bielsa’s side, but he may be thrust into the action in the coming weeks

Leeds United goalkeeper Illan Meslier has hailed the club’s fans as “crazy” and football as being “a religion” in the city as he adapts to life in West Yorkshire.

The 19-year-old, who was previously on Chelsea’s radar, joined the Championship side on a season-long loan deal from Lorient over the summer, having impressed in Ligue 2 during the 2018-19 campaign.

He is yet to make his senior debut for Leeds, however, but that has not stopped him from soaking in the Elland Road atmosphere on matchdays with the club chasing promotion back to the Premier League.

“Football is a religion in Leeds. The fans – they are crazy!” he told Goal in an exclusive interview while he prepared to represent France’s Under-21s over the international break.

“They sing all the time in the stadium. The atmosphere in the stadium is amazing.

“For my first game, I stayed for 10 minutes after to watch the fans. When you’re an opponent, you must feel very small. It’s incredible.”

Meslier’s opportunity in the first team may be on the horizon, with current No.1 goalkeeper Kiko Casilla having been charged by the Football Association (FA) following allegations he racially abused Charlton Athletic forward Jonathan Leko when the sides met on September 28.

Casilla denies the charges, and has been given extended period until November 27 to respond to the FA as he faces a suspension of at least six matches if found guilty.

Should Casilla, who was part of the Real Madrid squad which won three successive Champions League titles between 2016-18, be banned, then Meslier would be called upon to step up and take his place.

And the teenager insists he is ready for that responsibility, though he remains hopeful that Casilla will avoid punishment.

“I’m learning a lot with Kiko. He’s 33, he played for Real and won three Champions Leagues. He has great experience. He knows what to do in a lot of situations, and I really take on board everything he teaches me.

“Now, I’m ready to play at any time if there is a suspension or an injury. It’s important to seize the opportunity

“Kiko is the number one and I respect him. If he were to be cleared, it would be good for the group. And if he were to be suspended, I’m ready to play.”

Joining Leeds has given Meslier the opportunity to work under manager Marcelo Bielsa, with the former Argentina and Chile boss the man tasked with leading Leeds back to the top flight for the first time since relegation to the Championship in 2004.

Bielsa saw his side fall just short last season as his first campaign in charge finished with defeat in the semi-finals of the play-offs to Derby County as Frank Lampard’s side came from behind at Elland Road to win 4-3 on aggregate.

Despite claims he may look to move on, Bielsa has committed his future to Leeds and currently has them sitting third in the Championship table after 16 games of the new season.

Bielsa is famed for his high-intensity football, and Meslier admits he is learning how to adapt his own game under the Argentine.

“We all have a lot of respect for Marcelo Bielsa. We know what he did in his career. All the players want to work hard with him and we have only one goal: to go in the Premier League at the end of the season.

“I think that if I had stayed in Lorient last summer, I wouldn’t have progressed. Here, you have more intensity. It’s box-to-box with the English style. I take a lot more pleasure with Leeds.”

Bielsa’s side return to action after the international break with a trip to struggling Luton Town on November 23 as they look to keep the pressure on West Brom and Preston North End, who currently occupy the two automatic promotion berths.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *