What Leeds United would be getting if they signed Valerenga 'keeper Kristoffer Klaesson to replace Kiko Casilla
If Leeds United complete a deal for Kristoffer Klaesson they will add yet another youth international goalkeeper with high potential to Marcelo Bielsa’s squad, but not an Illan Meslier clone
Almost two years after first making enquiries about the 20-year-old Norwegian stopper, the Whites have once again approached Vålerenga as part of their attempts to bring in a replacement for Kiko Casilla who has moved to La Liga side Elche CF on loan for the 2021/22 season.
Despite his tender years Klaesson has racked up 54 top-flight appearances with the Eliteserien outfit, who sit towards the top end of the table approaching the midway point of their 2021 campaign, which started in May and not March this year owing to Covid-19 restrictions.
Klaesson has played every minute in the league this season and missed just a single game in 2020 through suspension.
His first-team breakthrough came in 2019, when he caught the eye of Leeds’ head of European recruitment Gaby Ruiz. Leeds approached Vålerenga to discuss the youngster but ended up signing Meslier from FC Lorient, who went on to become Marcelo Bielsa’s current No 1, instead.
Vålerenga have long known they had a real talent on their hands and so too did Norwegian Football Federation coaches.
Ben Wells, a Norwegian football analyst for Genius Sports, has followed Klaesson’s career closely.
“Klaesson was always regarded as a big talent in the Valerenga academy, in fact he’s been capped internationally all the way from Under-15 to Under-21 level and was called up to the full Norwegian national team in March, though had to drop out after testing positive for Covid-19,” he told The YEP.
“He became a regular for the Valerenga B team in 2017, aged just 17. The level at which Valerenga B play at is a good standard, the third tier of Norwegian football in fact. His full debut for Valerenga came a year later in the first round of the Norwegian cup against Arvoll, aged just 18.
“He eventually became Valerenga’s No 2 later on in the same season and occupied the bench in subsequent league fixtures.”
In 2019 circumstance led to first-team breakthrough and, just like Meslier, Klaesson took his chance with both hands to ultimately displace a much older, more experienced goalkeeper capped at international level.
“Adam Larsen Kwarasey, a Ghana international, was the usual first-choice but a loss of form and injury on his part allowed Klaesson an opportunity and he started 10 games back to back, before returning to the bench when Kwarasey returned from injury,” said Wells.
“Klaesson did play the final two games of the 2019 season, though and 2020 was his breakthrough year - new manager Dag Eilev Fagermo named him as his first-choice in pre-season. He played all but one game in the 2020 season.”
It has not all been plain sailing for the youngster since claiming a starting place as his own, there have been challenges to overcome, which required personality, no little determination and the ability to withstand criticism.
“I personally think Klaesson is an extremely confident player, who has handled the pressure and expectations of senior football very well for a player of his age,” said Wells.
“It would be fair to say that Klaesson was one of the better performing goalkeepers across the entire 2020 season.
“He showed great character to establish his place in the team, after a handful of costly errors and mistakes saw some fans and pundits calling for him to be dropped at the start of the year.
His manager kept faith in him though and he continued in the starting XI for the duration of the season.
“His form in the second-half was outstanding and he proved to many that, mentally, he was incredibly strong for a goalkeeper of his age.
“Mistakes do not seem to affect him and he just gets on with his job.”
A young goalkeeper with first-team experience was the profile Leeds based their 2019 search around and Klaesson fits it even better now than he did then, but he’s not Meslier Mk II.
“Kristoffer Klaesson has had a somewhat different style of play at Vålerenga from Illan Meslier’s at Leeds, with more aggressive passing and fewer ball recoveries,” said smarterscout founder Dan Altman.
“He can take the ball out of the box like Meslier, but his overall performance as an outfield player is of lower quality so far, at least at a Premier League standard. Klaesson does excel as a shot-stopper in open play, yet he’s not strong in the air.”
Kris Hilliam, an Eliteserien analyst and scout, said: “His shot stopping is generally very good, he makes saves he has little right to make, mainly due to his excellent reflexes and recovery speed, with examples of stunning double saves.
"Distribution wise Valerenga play direct, so different to how he’d be expected to play at Leeds but his technique is sound although he’s very left footed which can be a problem under pressure, though he did impress in a recent game against Bodo/Glimt as he looked composed and tended to play through the press or outside it to the full-backs rather than always going long.
“I think a season shadowing Meslier and working every day in that Leeds team could be better for his development than playing in Norway.”
Wells also feels he could shine at Leeds.
“In a sense, Klaesson is quite a traditional goalkeeper, athletic in goal and a great shot-stopper,” he said.
“He used to have a weakness in coming out and claiming the ball but has worked hard to improve this area of his game, with marked improvements noticeable in the 2021 season.
“Leeds obviously need a goalkeeper good with his feet and although I would not call Klaesson a ‘ball-playing-goalkeeper’ as such, it’s certainly not a weak area of his game and in-fact he has improved a lot in the last two seasons with regards to how he is able to play out from the back under pressure.
“He’s a goalkeeper who could definitely flourish under Bielsa. His range and accuracy of passing has improved nicely and he’s definitely at least comfortable with the ball at his feet right now. His athleticism and recovery pace is impressive, also.”
Off the field, his conduct and attitude appear to line up with what is expected of a player in Bielsa’s dressing room, although he’s yet to deal with the spotlight and scrutiny that is reality for any Whites signing in the Premier League. A move to Elland Road would be a true test of just how much he can handle.
“He’s not someone you see or hear about in the media too often, sometimes to his detriment, as he’s still relatively unknown outside of Norway,” said Wells.
“He seems very level-headed, aware of his ability but also aware that he’s not yet at the same ‘wonderkid’ status as other Norwegian players.
"He seems relatively unflappable and rarely dwells on mistakes, but is always looking to improve his game. For this reason I think he could develop very nicely under Bielsa at Leeds.”
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Thank you Laura Collins