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Is Leo Hjelde any good? Rotherham & Leeds Podcasts fill us in on soon-to-be Sunderland signing

It looks like Sunderland are signing Norwegian defender Leo Hjelde — so, to find out more about him we spoke to ‘New York Talk’ and ‘Mighty Whites Pod’. Is he any good?

Photo by Jess Hornby/Getty Images

So, Leo Hjelde… is he any good?

Mighty Whites Pod: Pretty divisive immediately to be honest with that question. I think there’s definitely a good player to made out of Hjelde - but you’ll also see Leeds fans who think he is awful.

Leo Hjelde played for Rotherham last season in the Championship… how did he get on?

New York Talk: Leo did well for us. He came at a time we were struggling for form and he gave the team a big boost, his personality shone through which I think helps with loan players and helped set up a goal with 10 minutes of his debut which helped fans take to him.

When he signed from Celtic what was the expectation on what he’d be like?

MWP: He was very young when he signed so immediate expectations were that he would improve the u21s. He had senior experience on loan at Ross County (where he was compared to Van Dijk, but a big pinch of salt there). He was expected to be a ball-playing centre back at that stage, but there wasn’t much of a clue on how he would develop.

Celtic vs Preston Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images

Was there ever a chance that he might have signed for Rotherham again this season? Is this something fans and the club wanted?

NYT: Fans would definitely have wanted him back. He was a type of loan player that seemed to get the fans and vice versa, at the start of the season we went for more experienced players and he was getting on the bench for Leeds so sadly nothing more came of it.

What sort of defender and player is he? What can we expect from him in terms of playing style?

NYT: His best position for us was attacking wingback. He loves to get forward with the ball and can put a decent cross in when in the right area and if given a bit of freedom. He can also play as the left side of a back three — he didn’t play for us too much there but looked okay when he did.

MWP: He is good on the ball, especially his passing. As he made some mistakes it often got missed that some of his passing cut through the lines quite well early in the season. He will struggle for pace against really quick forwards/wingers, but he isn’t particularly slow by defensive standards.

His game reading needs some work, he got caught out too many times early on this season, and Leeds’ left back is expected to invert and move around the pitch a lot which I don’t think suited him. For example, this meant him receiving passes facing his own goal, which he seemed not to like as much as receiving deeper with the pitch ahead of him - another reason why I think he’ll make a better centre back.

Rotherham United v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship - AESSEAL New York Stadium Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Sunderland like our defenders to get forward and support the midfield… is this something he can do?

NYT: Absolutely, he loves to bomb forward. It can be his downfall sometimes, a few times he went forward and left space that was easily exploited by the opposition.

How come he hasn’t had much of a look in at Leeds? Was there an expectation he’d come back from his loan at Rotherham and play more?

MWP: When he came back from his loan he was expected to get game time. He did start the first two games of the season at left back but was hooked for Sam Byram at half time in both. He didn’t have good games in those two, and that appears to have been enough for Farke to make his mind up about him. Sam Byram has been excellent all season, and Junior Firpo has been massively improved which has given him little chance of playing left back. I think his best position is as a left-sided centre back. However, Pascal Struijk and Liam Cooper have that covered, along with Ethan Ampadu being good when he drops in. I would have played Hjelde there in the cup games to see how he did.

Given that Leeds were relegated last season to the Championship, are you surprised they haven’t used him?

NYT: Yes and no. I thought he would be a good bit part player for them. But he has his issues defensively and maybe some concentration issues, which are to be expected with how little he has played and with how much pressure can be put on from a team that has just come down. They didn’t seem to settle on him — I thought he would have gone back out on loan somewhere at the start of the season rather than not play for Leeds.

Leeds United v Shrewsbury Town - Carabao Cup First Round First Round Photo by Richard Sellers/Sportsphoto/Allstar via Getty Images

The rumoured fee is £1m rising to £1.5m, with Hjelde signing a 4.5 year contract… what are your thoughts on the deal?

MWP: The fee sounds about right, but I’ll be disappointed in Leeds if we haven’t got a sell-on clause. Especially if he signs a long deal so could be flipped for a profit quickly if he does come good.

Do you think he’s ready to play regular football somewhere like Sunderland?

NYT: Probably, but that is going to depend on how he has managed to progress while he hasn’t been playing. I think he is a player that will be popular if he does play. He’s the kind that does make mistakes but you can forgive him them because he is generally trying to play in a positive way.

MWP: I wouldn’t expect him to make an immediate impact. The way he dropped down the pecking order at Leeds suggests there may be some loss of confidence to get back. I absolutely think he is good enough to play for Sunderland though, as I think he has the talent to have been more involved at Leeds, it just hasn’t worked out.

Rotherham United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - AESSEAL New York Stadium Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images

What areas of his game do you think he needs to work on most?

NYT: His main issue for us was he took to many risks, running with the ball and losing it and leaving space, or being guilty of chasing the ball rather than marking his man of his space. Those feel like things that can be worked on, and hopefully the more he plays the less those mistakes will happen.

For anyone not quite sure about this move, what would you say to them?

MWP: Being unsure on this one is totally fair. I am a fan of his and I couldn’t say I am sure.

Sunderland have been committing to youth and in that sense I think Hjelde is a pretty good value bet. Rumoured length of contract suggests some faith in his ability. I can only remember doing a couple of these for RR. De Bock, who everyone agreed was awful. Huggins, who I backed to become good (shame about the injuries, always liked him, still do). This is much more Huggins than De Bock. I personally wouldn’t be selling Hjelde.

I reckon he doesn’t do loads this season, but next season he establishes himself in your side (probably under someone else’s coaching) and with a run of games he becomes a good player at Championship level. He has the time to improve and go higher than that, but we’ll have to see on that front.

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