Leo Hjelde has been watched by Premier League clubs – and Ross County manager John Hughes believes Celtic loanee Leo Hjelde could be ‘the next Virgil Van Dijk.’
The 17-year-old arrived in Dingwall in the winter transfer window on loan from Celtic and has featured nine times for County. It’s resulted in links to the Premier League for the Norwegian teenager.
Southampton were linked with a summer move last week while Hughes has confirmed Celtic have extended his contract to fend off Leeds United interest. The Ross County manager reckons he has a ‘massive future’ in football.
He said: “I 100% believe he will reach the Premier League. Leo is going to be the next Virgil Van Dijk, trust me on that, trust me. He has got a lot to learn but for being a young kid, to come on loan during Covid in this climate, what he’s produced has been absolutely fantastic.
“He has still got a lot of learning but before he came here Leeds United were after him. I think he signed an extension to his Celtic contract for this loan to go through. He is going to be a centre-back but he can play left-back.
“Everything a loan does for a kid, playing competitive football every week, trying to win every week, playing men’s football, standing up to it and the disappointments. There have been one or two occasions he could have done better but that’s part of it. It’s been a wonderful experience for Leo.
“He is a good kid, a good professional. At this moment in time he has picked up a wee virus but thankfully it’s not Covid-19. It has knocked him back a wee bit. But once he’s over that, he will challenge again. But I take my hat off to him and he’s got a massive future.”
While Hughes hopes to see him represent former club Celtic next season, he isn’t ruling out a Highland return for Hjelde: “I am a wee bit of a Celtic man and I would love to see him make his debut for Glasgow Celtic and become a regular. I would love nothing more than to go along to Parkhead and see Leo run out there.
“That’s why we are so grateful to Celtic for allowing that. Everybody has benefited and that is my wish. Hopefully Leo can play a part in keeping Ross County in the Scottish Premiership and then the next time we see him, he is playing for Celtic. If not, if they decided he’s got a bit more development to do, it’s something we might look at next season.”
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