One is heading back to Celtic labelled ‘the next Virgil Van Dijk’ while another will be happy to be home – and departing Ross County vice-captain Callum Morris believes the youngsters deserve praise.
Stephen Kelly was on loan from Rangers while Charlie Lakin also spent the entire season in Dingwall, on loan from Birmingham City. Celtic youngster Leo Hjelde was brought to the club by then-manager John Hughes in January, who compared the 17-year-old defender to former Parkhead centre-back and Liverpool defender Van Dijk.
Morris isn’t sure about the comparisons to the Dutch defender, but tells NTOF he believes the former Celtic loanee has a bright future: “I don’t think anybody expected John to call Leo the next Virgil Van Dijk! It is a lot of pressure to put on a young kid’s shoulders, calling him Van Dijk.
“But he’s got a lot of attributes that you can’t really coach. He’s so composed. He’s only 17 but if you didn’t know his age you would think he has played a couple hundred games. All the stuff he has got in his locker that I would say are uncoachable are going to take him right to the top, I think.
“If he gets his head down and makes the right moves in the game, he can go far, especially after coming into County in a relegation battle and being chucked in at that age! He’ll have a good career, but Van Dijk? I’m not sure!”
It was a tough season for loan players across Scotland in the 2020/21 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. On the lookout for a new club himself as he prepares to leave Ross County while his contract expires, Morris says it’s been difficult for young loanees, battling relegation and surviving in the Scottish Premiership on the final day.
He said: “There was a lot of mixing and matching. It was only the last few games that we played the same team in consecutive games. We got some really good results against Aberdeen, Hibs, Celtic. But it was the games we were supposed to pick up points in that we didn’t.
“The loan boys have came up and haven’t been able to go home. They probably didn’t think that’s what they were getting into, they haven’t seen their families in months. But it allowed them to focus on their football, which was probably beneficial. There are not many distractions when you are a bubble, you can’t go for a coffee.
“You are training and playing games, that’s about it, and these loan boys had the chance to focus on that. But there are two different sides of it. The likes of Stephen Kelly came up from Rangers and was brilliant. He wanted to get home desperately but was still integral for us.”
NTOF’S full interview with Callum Morris will be available on our YouTube channel, which features exclusive interviews, post-match discussion, in-depth debate, and much more – LIKE and SUBSCRIBE and don’t miss any of our videos.