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Have Sunderland unearthed another gem in Norwegian Leo Hjelde?

Leo Hjelde made his debut for the club in the 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough at the weekend — what did you make of his first start?

Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sunderland and Norwegian players, over the years, have rarely crossed.

Before last month, only two Norwegian players have worn the red-and-white of Sunderland.

Striker Tore Andre Flo and goalkeeper Thomas Myhre were both signed in 2002 for the club, and at the time, the former was the club’s second-most expensive signing.

However, both only made 72 appearances collectively for the club during their rather short spells at the club, with Andre Flo leaving in 2003 and Myhre in 2005.

Since then, the Black Cats have never had a Norwegian player at the club, but last Tuesday, Leo Hjelde was signed as only the third ever Norwegian to make the move to Wearside.

Sunderland Unveil New Signing Leo Hjelde Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The transfer to Sunderland was only his second permanent move of his career, after moving from Celtic to Leeds in 2021, but never really saw his career take off in Yorkshire.

So, that is why this move to Sunderland feels like a rational move in Hjelde’s career. The club are becoming more well-known across the EFL for bringing in players with mass potential but have lost their way at their retrospective clubs, and relaunching their career.

Hjelde has had experience in the Championship last season by spending the second half of it at Rotherham United and helped in their bid for survival.

What is interesting, though, about Hjelde’s arrival to the North East is the flexibility that the Norwegian has in the positions that he likes to play across the defensive line.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Matt Taylor, Hjelde’s manager at Rotherham, said that during his time with the Millers, Hjelde’s best position was left-back (where we played 90+ minutes on his debut), but the nature of his character means that he is likely to move to become a left-sided centre-back as his career progresses.

This is the exact position where he was playing for Leeds’ under-21s for the beginning of their season before his move north, and is a position that Hjelde says is his favourite.

For his debut at the Riverside, though, Hjelde produced an eye-catching performance at left-back in both a defensive and attacking sense.

Defensively up against Marcus Forss, the Norwegian never looked out of his depth, and nor was he culpable to errors on his first full start at Championship level since the start of the season.

Only in the second-half when Luke Ayling started joining the attacks did Middlesbrough seem on top, but none of our second-half issues stemmed from Hjelde.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Riverside Stadium Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Meanwhile, when pushing into the final third, he was equally impressive. Ball-carrying runs into the Middlesbrough half, as well as a presence on the wings, all added to his impact on the game and the optimistic reaction that his display has gained.

By no means, though, is the Norwegian a complete defender already. It’s only his first start for the club, and his first league appearance since playing for Leeds against Cardiff on the opening day of this campaign.

Also, as the weeks tick by this season, midweek games are going to put a strain on the match fitness that he has, but for a first appearance for the club, this was a real statement of what he is capable of.

It was a solid start to his Sunderland career for the defender, and fans will hope that Hjelde is another gem uncovered by the recruitment team.

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