'Hard to grow up there': Leeds star says he turned down Chelsea due to their loan system

Leeds United goalkeeper Illan Meslier explained why he rejected an approach from Chelsea in 2018.

Speaking to The Athletic, Meslier laid out the reasons behind his reluctance to join the Blues three years ago.

At the time, the young Frenchman was plying his trade with Lorient, who were then stationed in Ligue 2.

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Upon breaking into the first team, he kept five consecutive clean sheets, earning the attention of Europe’s elite clubs.

The 22-year-old had already opted against a move to Monaco when Chelsea came knocking on the door.

Kepa Arrizabalaga’s record transfer that summer meant the Blues no.1 jersey was taken, whilst Rob Green joined from Huddersfield on a free.

Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

But the Stamford Bridge hierarchy wanted to snap up Meslier before a fellow powerhouse beat them to the punch.

Yet, the fledgling ‘keeper personally decided to remain with Lorient and continue to develop his skills in France.

He said: “It was a difficult decision. Chelsea are a big club. You would ask me, ‘Why not (go)?’.

“But there are lots of keepers in Chelsea’s academy, it’s very hard to grow up there and sometimes you sign and you have to go on loan, things like that.

“It’s better, I think, to work in your club and then sign to be a No 1 at 24, 25. Not at 18 years old.”

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Illan at Leeds

After making 30 appearances and keeping 11 clean sheets for Lorient, Meslier moved to Leeds on loan in 2019.

Not long after his Elland Road transfer, he took Kiko Casilla’s customary spot between the sticks.

Marcelo Bielsa’s side won the Championship that season, with their new recruit managing seven shutouts in just ten games.

Leeds then decided to reward Meslier with a permanent contract. He is now a Premier League regular.

Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

During this period, Chelsea have had their own goalkeeping sagas to contend with.

After a decent debut campaign, Kepa failed to maintain any kind of consistency under Frank Lampard.

A string of stodgy performances led him to being replaced by veteran shot-stopper Willy Caballero.

2020/21 failed to bring any more fortune for the Spaniard, as he was superseded by the signing of Edouard Mendy from Rennes.

Mendy instantly made the Blues defence less permeable, leaving Kepa to reside on the substitute bench.  

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Nathaniel is a football journalist who graduated from the University of Derby. He has worked at Burton Albion as part of their media team for two years. Nathaniel produces regular articles for the club’s official website and match-day programme. He covered the 2018 U20 Women’s World Cup in Brittany and has reported from grounds ranging from non-league up to the Premier League.