Not the end of the road for Ajer
this season. “I actually played in a relegation play-off in Norway about half a season before I left to join Celtic,” said the 18-year-old. “It was for IK Start against FK Jerv who were trying to come up from the second division and luckily we won that one to stay up.
“So I know what it means to clubs to avoid these situations,” he added. “It means a lot in Norway but probably even more here to stay in the league and we will do everything to make sure Kilmarnock don’t go down this season. It’s a tough league and Kilmarnock played the play-off last year so that’s something we’ll aim to avoid this time. We’re aiming for top six but that starts with Saturday [against Ross County]. We want to take three points.”
After more than 50 appearances in Norwegian football, Ajer has had to be patient when it comes to first team action in Scotland. While it was Ronny Deila who brought him to Parkhead, Ajer claims he learned more in six months working with Rodgers at Lennoxtown, even without first-team football, than he has done at any previous stage of his career. But there is little substitute, ultimately, for games.
There is a tendency to view a six-month loan spell at Rugby Park as rather anti-climactic but Ajer said he had been discussing his situation with Martin Odegaard, another talented Norwegian teenager, who has just gone on an 18-month loan from Real Madrid to Heerenveen in the Dutch league.
“Martin has gone to Herenveen for 18 months and that’s really good for him,” said Ajer. “He went to Real Madrid when he was 16 and it’s not easy to play for the team there when you are that young. So I think this time in Holland will be good for him. I know him well having been on the national team together since Under-15 level and now we are in Under-21s together. So we talk a lot, he is a brilliant player.”
The potential of a relegation dogfight isn’t the only examination Ajer will face this season. A bright kid who is working towards a medical degree in a bid to become a doctor when he finishes playing, the 18-year-old still has exams to complete in the Norwegian schooling system at the end of this year.
“When I am training or playing I am 100 percent focussed on football but when you come home and have three or four hours with nothing to do then I find it better to study instead of sitting in front of the TV,” he said. “I am connected to a school in Norway and get lectures through Skype but I have exams to do in Norway that I’ll take after the season has finished. At the end of my playing career I will move back to Norway and start my work in medicine.”
First, though, Ajer has a conversion course to undergo – as he adapts to life as a centre-back. While it was Brendan Rodgers who moved him back there from central midfield, it is one thing to excel in that position in UEFA Youth League matches such as one against Manchester City this season, quite another to deal with hardened senior professionals battling away for their Premiership wage packets.
“I always knew that I would become a centre half but in my earlier days I was told it was better to develop as a centre midfielder because everything is quicker there and it’s a good environment to learn,” he said. “Now I’m converting into a centre-half it’s important for me to play regularly.”
Craig Gordon share an embrace following Celtic’s record equalling result against St Johnstone on Wednesday night.