The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Ajer can see the bigger picture at Celtic before he takes that next step
KRISTOFFER AJER needn’t rush into a move away from Celtic this summer, according to former Parkhead captain Roy Aitken.
AC Milan and Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester are among those who have kept tabs on the 22-year-old Norwegian internationalist, who has already established himself as a key member for both club and country.
Ajer (below), who has two years left on his current Celtic contract, has made more than 100 appearances for the club since arriving a raw teenager just as Ronny Deila’s tenure in Glasgow was drawing to a close.
If the trajectory of his career is expected to continue with a move into a more prestigious league, Aitken maintained that consideration has to be given to the bigger picture.
‘At Celtic, there is so much there for him in terms of learning the game,’ he observed. ‘He’s a key part of Neil Lennon’s team. Since moving from midfield back into defence he has really started to learn the defensive discipline of the position and that ability to carry the ball out from the back is such an incredible asset.
‘There is no question he has all the hallmarks of the modern centre-half. That ability to come forward from defence and get an attack going is a real string to his bow, while his athleticism is also very much in keeping with what is needed now in modern football. He is an exciting talent.
‘But at Celtic he also has the opportunity to go and play European football and to be at a club where there are demands and pressures on him every single week. That is huge in terms of making sure you are always learning and always having to be on it. You don’t tend to get away with a poor game at Celtic. He is developing all the time.’
The business blueprint from Celtic over the last decade has been fairly successful in terms of sifting for talent in a fairly cluttered and increasingly expensive markets. The path was set through the likes of Gary Hooper, Virgil Van Dijk and Victor
Wanyama, while home-grown star Kieran Tierney last summer left for a Scottish transfer record of £25million.
While Aitken accepts there is realism at Celtic Park in terms of allowing Ajer to move on in his career — and appreciates that it would be enormously difficult to turn down an offer should it be tabled this summer — he has maintained that for both player and club there is no need for any haste.
‘I think we can all appreciate Celtic’s business model and ultimately I am sure that the boy himself will have ambitions of going on to play in one of the major leagues,’ said Aitken, who won six titles, five Scottish Cups and a League Cup in his Parkhead career. ‘However, at 22, the most important thing for Ajer is that he needs to make sure that he is playing every week. He has already firmly established himself for his country and you can see even over the last few seasons just how much he has come on. I don’t think there would be anyone who would stand in his way at Celtic if there was an offer for him to go on and further his career.
‘But at the same time there is no rush. The boy seems happy enough and he has certainly never made any public noises about wanting to leave. He definitely gives it his all in games and I think he gets the club.
‘He will know more than anyone that if he keeps doing what he is doing then he’ll have a fair few choices on the table. But playing at Celtic and in front of 60,000 fans — when that’s allowed again and we’re back in normal circumstances — will definitely prepare him if he wants to go on and put further demands on himself. ‘He will still have a few things to work on. He seems like a mature boy. It definitely takes something to come to a foreign country as a youngster and be prepared to be patient, which is what he had to do. ‘Another strong season at Celtic where he is going to be playing every week and potentially getting exposure against some top European teams can only be to his benefit.’