HJELDE ON BAPTISTE
ALEX CAN GO ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP
Evening Post, 12 April 2006
Young Stags star Alex John-Baptiste can make it all the way to the Premiership, according to his experienced central defensive partner Jon-Olav Hjelde.
John-baptiste has already made more than 100 appearances for Mansfield in his fledgling career - even though he is still just 20.
He is being tipped for bigger and better things by many onlookers after another consistent season in the amber and blue of the Stags.
And after seeing the Sutton-in-Ashfield-born player at close quarters, Norwegian Hjelde - who has played in the top flight with Forest - is not about to disagree.
"Bap is a good player who always wants to get on the ball and of course he is very quick, which always helps a defender," said Hjelde, 33.
"There is not too much that he has left to learn from me because he knows the basics and has plenty of experience for one so young.
"He trains hard as well- he's committed to it. Sometimes young players with talent don't want to train and put in the hard work but that's not the case with him.
"When I was his age I was still playing in the Third Division in Norway and was nowhere near where he is now.
"Bap can definitely play at a higher level. I think he could play in the Premiership one day.
"If you don't set out believing you can do it, then you are never going to reach the top, but I believe he can.
"How long he stays at Mansfield we don't know, but sooner of later he is going to be playing higher up."
Since Hjelde became John-Baptiste's regular partner - when Rhys Day had to have a hernia operation - Mansfield have tightened things up considerably at the back.
The Stags have let in only 17 goals in their last 15 league matches and three of those came when one of the two was missing.
Hjelde is understandably delighted with the way things have been going, especially as the team has kept four clean sheet in their last six games.
He said: "I think Bap and I have struck up a good understanding and it helps that we are both different types of player."
Hjelde has not ruled out the possibility of staying on in England for another season, before returning to Norway.
"I am probably going to go home in the summer but that's not 100 per cent and if I did stay I would like it to be with Mansfield," said Hjelde. "I have enjoyed it here, but my decision will be taken more with my personal life in mind. It's not just about football."
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