Illan Meslier hails the collective effort of Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United promotion winners

Leeds United's number one signed a permanent deal at Elland Road this week.
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According to the man who trained them, Leeds United achieved promotion with a collective effort and it pleased Marcelo Bielsa to be able to say that.

That was one of the key factors, for the Argentine, when explaining why the Whites finished top of the Championship by 10 points, ending a 16-year exile from the top flight.

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A peerless post-lockdown run of seven wins, one draw and one defeat blew their closest rivals away and this time it was not Leeds who fell apart, but everyone else.

Leeds United goalkeeper Illan Meslier. (PA)Leeds United goalkeeper Illan Meslier. (PA)
Leeds United goalkeeper Illan Meslier. (PA)

“The play of Leeds has been collective,” said Bielsa.

“The contribution of every player, if you add all these contributions, is what makes the team play like that.

“The collective play needs to be trained. In the same way, the individual [skill] to unbalance is less trainable. In our team, it was more collective than anything else.”

The celebrations of what they achieved was collective, too. Players who hadn’t been able to contribute anywhere near as much as they would have liked were pulled into the huddles and the photos. So too were staff members and so too was Bielsa.

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When Leeds lifted the trophy at Elland Road, he hung back, instinctively letting the players have their moment, but they wouldn’t have it without him.

Patrick Bamford left the throng of players to attempt to coax his head coach to join in.

Unsuccessful at first, he enlisted the help of Kalvin Phillips and between them, they brought Bielsa to the heart of the bouncing mass of bodies.

As a group, give or take a few faces, they have been together for two years. They have been together through the longest, most unusual of seasons and all they have faced has bonded them.

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The group was not so tightknit at the end of their first campaign under Bielsa that it couldn’t open up for newcomers. Illan Meslier was one of those, signed on a loan deal from Lorient.

He had little English when he arrived, but the French speakers in the squad helped settle him in.

A year on, with a Championship winners medal in his possession, a newly-signed three year deal and an impressive grasp of the language, Meslier is grateful that the dressing room togetherness was not exclusive.

“Helder Costa, he speaks French, Gjanni Alioski the same and Patrick [Bamford],” said the goalkeeper.

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“It was important for me, it was easier for my adaptation. When I arrived, I remained myself. It’s easy with Gjanni, he’s a fun guy too, he’s my friend. Helder the same, Barry Douglas is a fun guy too.

“I’m here in my first year. When we want the same objective, there is a lot of cohesion in the team. When we win it’s unbelievable. We’re a family.”

Making Meslier feel part of the family proved vital, because as it turned out they needed him for the most important stage of the season.

When Kiko Casilla was handed an eight-game ban for racism, the 20-year-old had to step in and did so seamlessly. He credits his head coach.

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“Marcelo is a very professional person, he wants the best for the players, for me,” said Meslier. “I’ve progressed with the way I fit with my team-mates, that’s very important for him.”

The group and its togetherness will be tested in the Premier League but Meslier has already grasped that with this club, even when you’re up against the world, the collective identity is your strength.

“I think all the players want to play well, we want to keep the system. We play well, so we’re happy and we want to keep going. It’s the Premier League, it’s more difficult but we are Leeds.