Leeds United currently find themselves in the midst of a relegation fight, with the Whites having lost their last six Premier League fixtures on the bounce, leaving them just two points above the drop zone. However, as a result of Victor Orta’s hard work with recruitment for the club’s under-23 side, the long-term future at Elland Road appears bright.
Indeed, with the likes of Charlie Cresswell, Joe Gelhardt, Sam Greenwood, Cody Drameh, Stuart McKinstry, Lewis Bate, Liam McCarron and Leo Hjelde all having featured in at least one of Leeds United’s matchday squads this season, there is an impressive amount of young talent pushing for a regular spot in Jesse Marsch’s first-team squad.
While all of the aforementioned players seem to have an exciting future in the game, one of the most promising appears to be 18-year-old Hjelde, who Orta pinched from Celtic last summer.
Having already made three senior appearances for the Whites this season, Hjelde will already be familiar to the Elland Road faithful.
Indeed, the £270k-rated left-back – who is also comfortable operating from the heart of defence – turned in an admirable display on his debut for Leeds in the 2-0 FA Cup defeat to West Ham United. That day, he made four clearances and two interceptions, blocked two shots and completed 53 passes over his 78 minutes on the pitch against the Hammers.
The 18-year-old followed this up with another solid display against the same opposition just a week later, this time in a 3-2 Premier League victory at the London Stadium. On that occasion, he made five clearances, one interception, one tackle and one key pass, also blocking one shot after coming on at left-back for the injured Junior Firpo.
Another early injury saw the Norwegian handed his next first-team appearance, with the £1k-per-week defender coming on in the ninth minute of the 3-0 loss to Everton last month. Hjelde stood out that day despite the result, making two clearances, three interceptions and four tackles and winning six of his eight duels, with these returns seeing the teenager earn an impressive SofaScore match rating of 7.00.
As such, considering his assured performances while still being so young, it is not difficult to understand why the player’s former coach John Hughes appeared incredibly excited about the potential of Hjelde.
The Ross County manager stated: “Leo is going to be the next Van Dijk. Trust me on that. He’s going to be a centre half but can also play left-back. He’s a really good kid with a very bright future… I take my hat off to him, he’s acquitted himself well and I think he’s got a massive future.”
As such, while a relegation dogfight may not be the best time to unleash the teenager in the Leeds first team, it would certainly appear as if Hjelde will be pushing for a starting spot in Marsch’s side next season. The centre-back undoubtedly has enough talent for the American to avoid splashing out millions on a new player in that position this summer.