Leo Hjelde: Leeds United's new signing is 18-year-old Virgil Van Dijk in the making

Leo Hjelde gets his first taste of senior action against West Ham United in the FA Cup - but who is he?

By Flora Snelson
Sunday, 9th January 2022, 1:50 pm

In August, the teenager penned a four year deal to join the Whites for an undisclosed fee.

Read More

Read More
'He's a dying breed' - Leeds United Under-23s star handed new Elland Road deal

What’s his background?

Sign up to our Leeds United newsletter

Son of Nottingham Forest centre-half Jon Olav Hjelde, the young defender began life as a footballer at Trygg/Lade, before joining his Dad’s old team Rosenborg, who compete in the Norwegian top flight.

The teen moved to the UK in the summer of 2019 to play for Celtic, where he has spent most of the last two seasons in among the Hoops’ B side.

Here he attracted the attention of Leeds, who showed interest in the January window but were unsuccessful in their overtures, with the centre-back departing Glasgow on loan to Ross County.

Hjelde’s spell at Ross County gave him precious experience of first team action in the Scottish Premiership and, having endured the pressure of a relegation scrap, the young man returned to Celtic standing tall after his contribution helped save the Staggies from the drop.

The 18-year-old also boasts youth caps for his country, and even scored for Norway U18s in a June friendly against Portugal.

Now, the Whites have had better luck on their second approach and the Norwegian youngster's arrival has further strengthened the youth ranks at Thorp Arch.

What have people said about him?

Hjelde made a big impression during his loan spell at Ross County, where Staggies boss John Hughes could not praise him highly enough.

"Leo is going to be the next Van Dijk,” Hughes claimed. “Trust me on that.

"The quality he has shown, the physical challenge, playing real men's football and standing up to it - it's been a wonderful experience for Leo.

"He’s got massive things in front of him,” he added.

Hughes’ glowing verdict was echoed by Hjelde’s Staggies teammate Coll Donaldson, who believes the teen has talent beyond his years.

"Leo has been great," he told Not The Old Firm. "You have to look at his age. He is only 17 years of age. It’s quite easy to forget that because he doesn’t really play like a 17-year-old.

“He’s very confident in his own ability and he’s played different positions. He’ll have a bright future if he continues to play the way he is doing.”

How does he fit in at Leeds?

Hjelde has initially joined up with Mark Johnson’s Under-23 side as they battle their first PL2 Division One campaign.

Oliver Casey’s departure to Blackpool left a gap in Johnson’s back line, and the vacancy for first-choice centre back is thought to have given Leeds a strong hand in securing the teen’s signature.

But in Hjelde, Leeds have nabbed a strong utility player who also slots in well on the flanks.

In a barnstorming display for the Staggies against Kilmarnock, Hjelde - whose name derives from the Norwegian word for 'heroes' - charged forward and netted his first senior goal, a move which earned him Man of the Match and proved he makes a handy left-wing-back, an asset much-admired by Bielsa.

At Thorp Arch, the defender has proved himself versatile by appearing at left-back and at centre-back under Mark Jackson in the Premier League 2 this season.

Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United. With a digital subscription, you see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click HERE to subscribe.