Celtic youngster Leo Hjelde's father talks up his future; addresses "next Virgil van Dijk" claims

By David Walton

April 14, 2021

Celtic youngster Leo Hjelde’s father, Jon Olav, has bigged up his son’s Parkhead future as he addressed the recent comparison to Virgil van Dijk.

Hjelde is currently out on loan with Ross County as he continues to impressively bag Premiership football at 19. Signed by Celtic back in June 2019, the centre-back looks to be one for the future.

He’s certainly been catching the attention of County boss John Hughes in any case. Yogi yesterday made the extraordinary claim that Hjelde is going to be the “next Virgil van Dijk” [BBC]. This comes after impressing in his first nine games with the Staggies.

Norwegian media outlet TV2 managed to catch up with the player’s father after the remark was made. And as he addressed Hughes’ remark, Hjelde Sr discussed his loan stint so far and his long-term future at Celtic.

“He has been thrown to the wolves”

“It is flattering just to be mentioned in the same sentence as him. But it must be motivating. He wants to go far. Now he has to keep his feet on the ground and continue working. He has had good development this year. He’s taken steps especially on the defensive side since he came to Ross County. He has looked good, even with the lockdown and the whole package, where he is in the room 20 hours a day.

“There have been several clubs interested (in the past). I do not know how specific it was, but there is a bit of interest when you play in a top league at the age of 17. It will be exciting with Celtic. We do not know who will come in as the new manager. He must be in good shape after the summer break and impress the new manager who has probably not seen him before. If he manages to play for Celtic when he is 17-18 years old, it’s very good.

“I think it’s easier to play for Celtic, where you have the ball 70 percent of the time, than for Ross County. It is a physically tough league where you have to stand up for yourself. It has been the perfect challenge, he has really tried and been thrown to the wolves and fought for his life.”

Leo Hjelde has a long way to go before realising Virgil van Dijk comparison

You can debate whether being given this comparison is particularly wise. It would be more ideal for him to be able to crack on with his development than have to deal with remarks like that. It’s undoubtedly what’s prompted Norwegian media to chase up the player’s father.

All of a sudden, he’ll be getting this comparison wherever he goes. Whilst it’ll be flattering for the young centre-back, he has a long way to go before he realises any true similarities.

Liverpool superstar van Dijk is on a different stratosphere entirely to anything in Scottish football. Hjelde should be more concerned with replicating the career path of Celtic teammate Kristoffer Ajer. Kris managed to make the most of a successful loan stint at Kilmarnock before being brought back by Brendan Rodgers and becoming one of our greatest assets.

Celtic youngster Leo Hjelde / (Photo by Rob Casey/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Hjelde, of course, is fortunate to have a father in Jon Olav who’s actually played the game. Hjelde Sr was a professional footballer himself, managing to carve out a career for himself at a decent level. He managed to spend three years with Rosenborg between 1994-97. He also featured for Notts Forest and Mansfield Town in Britain.

He’ll be able to keep his youngster’s feet on the ground as he begins to make important strides at senior level. And ahead of the new manager coming in, Hjelde will want to put himself in a position to catch the eye. He has a big pre-season ahead of him.

As for now, however, he’s doing exactly what he was sent out to do – impress.

In other news, Chris Sutton has brilliantly dismissed Crystal Palace as he backed Eddie Howe to join Celtic.