Leeds United: Jesse Marsch wants Meslier to be Whites quarter-back

Jesse Marsch says he wants to develop goalkeeper Illan Meslier as a “quarter-back” and Leeds United’s “first defender”.

Much gets spoken nowadays about the “philosophies” of football coaches and since he succeeded Marcelo Bielsa at Elland Road, Marsch has been no exception.

When it comes to goalkeeping, his thinking is broadly in line with the modern trends where goalkeepers are judged much more than they once were on what they do when they have the ball, and how they contribute to their team in possession.

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Meslier’s distribution can be hit and miss but at just 22 years-old, the Frenchman has shown huge potential to become one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers, continuing a tremendous debut season at that level in a second campaign which has been much harder for the club as a whole.

Illan Meslier of Leeds United. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

Acknowledging the gaps in his expertise, former midfielder Marsch leaves the technical specifics to goalkeeping coach Marcos Abad, who has worked with Meslier since he joined, initially on loan, from hometown club Lorient in 2019.

But he has broader ideas about how he wants Meslier and the club’s other goalkeepers to fit into his style of play as a “sweeper-keeper”. “Being the last defender is always really important because we like to play very aggressively with our backline (pushing high up the field in possession),” explained Marsch, whose side are at Arsenal on Sunday.

“Then what I can do with my experiences is I can see how to help a goalkeeper with his mentality, with his decision-making, when he has the ball in his hands, that he is the quarter-back of that situation and understands what kind of rhythm of play that we want within the match.”

Marsch says he has also been impressed by Meslier’s deputy, Kristoffer Klaesson, who he handed an unexpected debut to when Meslier was forced off by an injury at Wolverhampton Wanderers in March.

The Norwegian is eight months younger than Meslier.

What stood out for Marsch about Klaesson was the personality he showed in a difficult debut game.

“The last word I said to Kristoffer before he stepped out into that match is that he’s trained well, that he’s had that mentality to do whatever he can to be the best he can in training every day and now’s the time to reward himself for that work,” he recalled.

“I can only say that when we needed him he came up massively in a massive game and we know that now that if we ever need him, that he’s ready to go.

“I love that in young goalkeepers.

“I had a young goalkeeper in Salzburg that we had to put into a Champions League match (against Napoli) 30 minutes into the match and it was a similar type message.

“His name was Carlos (Coronel) and he had the ball and a bib on (as he warmed up) and he almost went on the pitch with the ball and the bib because I think he knew it was a big moment and a nervous moment.

“But he went on and played fantastic and so that for me is always a reflection of the individual and the players but also the environment we create where we show that we believe in every guy that’s here.”