Sheffield Wednesday great Nigel Pearson predicts bright future for George Hirst
Former Wednesday defender Nigel Pearson has backed George Hirst to rediscover his goal-scoring touch after a "difficult" 12 months.
Pearson swooped to sign Hirst on a free transfer when he was in charge of Belgian second-tier side OH Leuven - Leicester’s sister club - last summer.
But the former Owls striker only netted three times in 23 appearances for Leuven during the 2018/19 season.
Pearson, who was sacked as Leuven boss in February, told The Star: "George is a really promising player.
"It was a difficult year for him this season. He started the season pretty well for us but it is difficult for a young player to go into a new environment and shine in a side that is struggling.
"Maybe there was too large a weight of expectation on him. I think as an experience it will have been excellent for him because he has had a full year of first-team football. Young players need to be exposed to that as early as possible.
"I think the year at Sheffield Wednesday where they refused to play him really killed the situation and I think it also potentially setback his development. I don't understand why things like that happen but it happened.
"He has certainly got a lot of potential."
Hirst, whose father David was an iconic player for Wednesday in the Eighties and Nineties, progressed through the club's academy and his stellar goal-scoring exploits at youth level earned him rave reviews. He plundered 40 goals for club and country in the 2016/17 campaign, leading to plenty of interest from elsewhere in his services. Premier League side Leicester City had a number of offers knocked back for the England Under-20 international.
However, Hirst was frozen out at S6 after refusing to sign a new long-term contract, which the Owls claimed would have made him the best-paid player for his age in their history. He left Wednesday at the end of his contract and signed a five-year deal with Leuven.
Pearson said: "I would like to think I played a big quite a big part in him coming to Leuven!
"I played with his dad for a long time and it was an opportunity for George to play first-team football. He is a player that needs first-team opportunities.
"He's a different player to his dad.
"I didn't promise him he was going to play every week but he played a lot of football under me that's for sure.
"He will have learned an awful lot from this experience.
"He had a year of catching up and I'm sure next year he will do well."
Ex-Hull City and Leicester City chief Pearson landed the Leuven role in September 2017. He guided Leuven to second in his first season at the helm but he struggled in his second year, leaving the club bottom in their division's overall classification, having managed just 22 points from 24 matches.
"It was something I enjoyed doing and I don't regret doing it," he said. "The club has a lot of potential and it was a real ride in terms of improving the infrastructure and the facilities. Coupled with last season being a success on the pitch, it was really good.
"But of course results weren't good enough this year, hence me losing my job.
"I have absolutely no regrets. I had a great time.
"I worked with players who were very coachable and had a lot of humility. It was a really good experience."