John Hughes has talked up Ross County loanee Leo Hjelde as having the potential to match former Celtic star Virgil van Dijk.
Hughes has raved about Hjelde since he arrived on loan from the Hoops in January and believes he has the ability to follow in van Dijk’s illustrious footsteps.
Van Dijk is now a Premier League and Champions League winner with Liverpool, having won two Premiership titles under Ronny Deila at Parkhead before switching to Southampton in 2015.
Hughes said: “One hundred percent, Leo is going to be the next Van Dijk. Trust me on that. I would love to see him make his debut for Celtic and become a regular. I would love nothing more to see him running out there.
“We want him to play his part in keeping Ross County in the Premiership then play for Celtic next season.
“If not, if they think he’s still got a bit of learning to do, then we’d look at it for next season.
“He’s got a lot to learn, but to come up here, he’s away from home and he’s settled in really well.”
Hjelde, the son of former Nottingham Forest defender Jon Olav, has been linked with Premier League sides Leeds and Southampton, which would follow a similar career trajectory to Dutch captain van Dijk.
Hughes added: “Before he came here it was Leeds United who wanted him and he had to sign an extension for his loan to go through.
“He’s going to be a centre-half but can also play left-back. Everything a loan does for a young kid, the physical challenge, playing every week in men’s football and standing up to it.
“There have been disappointments, one or two times he could have done better, but that’s how you learn. He’s a really good kid with a very bright future.”
The Staggies boss has also played down his spat with Hibernian winger Martin Boyle, whom he criticised for diving to win a penalty in their 2-1 loss to the Edinburgh side last month.
Boyle responded this week, saying he found the comments “bizarre” and that statistics show he is one of the most fouled players in the Scottish top flight.
Hughes said: “He’s got every right to defend himself. I like (Martin) Boyle – he’s a wonderful player and is playing for a great club.
“When I’m standing up, my voice is for Ross County, that’s why I have to speak out. If I think there’s been an injustice, I have to speak out. It just so happens it was him on that occasion.
“He’s a wonderful footballer and a player I like watching. He’s entitled to back himself.
“He’s worked hard, got himself in at Raith Rovers and Dundee and now he’s an international. I can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s the talisman at Hibs at the minute and good on him.”