Celtic: Ange Postecoglou must give chance to youngster dubbed 'next Virgil van Dijk'

  • John  Reid
Liverpool star Virgil van Dijk in action for Celtic

Even though Celtic are set to spend money on a centre-back this summer, the Hoops should look to give an opportunity to a home-grown defender as well – Leo Hjelde.

What is the latest news involving Leo Hjelde?

The 17-year-old centre-half is a product of the Celtic youth system, and spent the second-half of last season on loan at Premiership side Ross County, who he helped to avoid relegation.

So impressed was then Ross County manager John Hughes with the teenager that he compared him to Liverpool’s former Hoops centre-back Virgil van Dijk.

“Leo is going to be the next van Dijk, 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,” Hughes said as quoted by BBC Sport. 

Hjelde has also caught the eye of one of England’s biggest clubs, as the Yorkshire Evening Post reported last month that Leeds United were monitoring the player’s displays.

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Has the teenager featured in Celtic’s pre-season games?

With Celtic fairly short on centre-backs at the moment with the injury suffered by Christopher Jullien and Kristoffer Ajer heading for the exit door, Ange Postecoglou has involved Hjelde in the Bhoys’ pre-season training camp in Wales.

The starlet played 30 minutes of the 3-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday, 45 minutes of the 2-1 victory over Charlton, 13 minutes of the scoreless draw with Bristol City and half an hour of the 1-0 defeat to Preston.

That is a positive sign for the Hjelde, but it remains to be seen whether his involvement in the first-team will continue when competitive fixtures come around. 

How could potential transfers affect Hjelde’s Celtic future?

One thing that could affect Hjelde’s playing time is the fact that Celtic are set to sign new centre-back, with a deal for Rubin Kazan’s Carl Starfelt reportedly already agreed and only red tape standing in the way of an announcement.

Once that deal goes ahead, the teenager will have more competition to deal with as he attempts to break into the Hoops first-team. 

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Should Hjelde be given a first-team opportunity by Ange Postecoglou?

Hjelde does have experience playing in high-pressure Premiership games, as he was involved in Ross County’s relegation battle last season. He made 12 appearances for County, scoring one goal.

The Norwegian was thrown in at the deep end on his debut too, as he came up against Rangers at Ibrox. Ross County might have lost that game 5-0, but it says a lot for how Hjelde must have performed in training that he was given the chance in the first place. 

Should Postecoglou give Hjelde a similar opportunity this season? Well, Ajer isn’t the only centre-back Celtic need to replace this summer with Shane Duffy returning to parent club Brighton after his loan spell. 

The Hoops could go out into the market and spend on another centre-half, but they’d be wiser to work with what they already have in Hjelde and further develop his talent. 

Already blooded in at top flight level and earning comparisons with one of the best centre-halves around, the timing feels right to give the youngster a chance and see if he can take it. 

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