April 13, 2024

New Sunderland acquisition Leo Hjelde claims the group is similar to the one he left at Leeds United in terms of player quality.

The 20-year-old defender joined the Black Cats during the final week of the transfer window after spending two and a half years at Leeds, including a loan spell at Rotherham. The Whites were only demoted from the Premier League last season and are fighting for automatic promotion this season, but Hjelde believes Sunderland aren’t far behind.

“If you look at the Sunderland squad compared to the one at Leeds, I don’t really think there’s any difference in terms of quality,” the player remarked. “The squad’s age is likely the most significant difference.

“We probably do not have as much experience here. However, the boys’ quality is undeniably high. It’s incredible, and it’s why the club has a policy of signing young, dynamic players. The team is excellent, and I’m really delighted with what I’ve found.”

After making just one Championship appearance for Leeds in the first half of the season, Hjelde was seeking for a move in January and leaped at the opportunity to join Sunderland. The Black Cats were looking for a left-sided defender after injuries to Aji Alese, Dennis Cirkin, and Niall Huggins, with Hjelde capable of playing full-back and centre-back.

 

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“It was a sharp turnaround,” Hjelde admits when questioned about his move to Wearside. “I believe I received the message a day before signing here, so it was a simple decision. The first thing I did was hop on the phone to my dad, and he just said, ‘There’s no way you’re not signing’. He was overjoyed for me, and for me, it was a simple decision. I was familiar with the club, including its size and performance last season. I played against the guys, so for me, it was a really easy shift and adjustment. “There was never any doubt.”

He said, “I was waiting for a move. It was all about being patient, really. I was getting game time with Leeds’ under-21s, so I was ready to go whenever the opportunity presented itself. Obviously, it came late, but I’m glad it happened, and I’m ready to get started.”

Due to Sunderland’s aforementioned injuries, Hjelde was called up to the Black Cats’ starting lineup against Middlesbrough on Sunday, and he played the entire match at the Riverside as Michael Beale’s team fought from behind to earn a 1-1 draw.

When questioned about his first chats with Beale, Hjelde responded: “With the injuries at left-back, he told me right away, ‘You’ll slot in at left-back and compete for a position there.'” That was incredibly encouraging to hear because I had been without first-team games for quite some time. We were just talking about how we play, how fearless we are, and so forth. He made me feel good about the club. “It was good.”

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