October 24, 2021

Why ex-Leeds United midfielder Gradel turned down Arsenal for Leicester City

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The Ivorian midfielder was offered a chance to start his career in Arsene Wenger’s team but he opted to move to the King Power Stadium

Toulouse midfielder Max Gradel rejected an offer from Arsenal to start his professional career with Leicester City in League One because they presented different assurances.

The 32-year-old had a four-month trial with the Gunners, but snubbed a scholarship offer to continue his development in North London. However, he opted to join the Leicester City academy with the promise of getting his professional career started at the club.

Gradel signed his first professional contract with the Foxes in 2007 and he spent four years at the club before completing a permanent move to Leeds United in 2010.

“One was the chance to become a professional footballer,” he told the Athletic when asked about the Arsenal snub.

“That’s the point — not just a footballer but a professional footballer. It was my dream and having a scholarship didn’t mean as much. Lots of players with scholarships don’t make it.”

During his stint at Leicester City, the Ivory Coast international was loaned out to Bournemouth in 2007-08 and Leeds United in the 2009-10 season.

The 32-year-old recalled how desperate he was to play at Elland Road by paying for his hotel accommodation.

“I was ready to use my own money. The club didn’t make me pay in the end but I was ready to do it,” he said.

“In Africa, the way we are and the way we think, we don’t need much to make things happen.

“To play in the street, you need a street and a ball. That’s it. So we played football all the time and every day.”

Toulouse are resigned to losing Gradel this summer following their relegation to Ligue 2, bringing an end to his two-year stay at the club.

The former Saint-Etienne midfielder did not hide his aspiration to return to Leeds United for their Premier League campaign next season, and he also expressed his admiration for Argentine manager Marcelo Bielsa.

“He looks crazy and they tell you he’s crazy but he’s not,” Gradel said of Bielsa. “To me, he knows exactly what he’s doing. I don’t know him but I know this.

“There’s always a chance. While you’re still playing, there’s always a chance. Leeds are family. Leeds are Leeds. If it was to happen one day, I couldn’t be happier.”