Benkovic is decent, but Ajer must be first-choice

By David Walton

September 8, 2018

It’s an exciting capture for Celtic to have, but Kristoffer Ajer must start over Filip Benkovic in most occasions this season.

Croatian star Benkovic arrived on loan from Leicester City on transfer deadline-day. The deal is supposed to be for the season, but Benkovic has already stated he could head back down south in six months.

This is just one of the reasons that he shouldn’t be displacing Ajer in the side anytime soon.

Some may say that he should take Dedryck Boyata’s place. The Belgian is on something of a Celtic renaissance these days, and remains the club’s best defender. He simply cannot be dropped.

Kristoffer Ajer has made great strides at Celtic in the last year (Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Yet, Ajer is the perfect definition of how a long-term project is supposed to work out.

Arriving back in 2016, the youngster was barely given a shot. Shipped out to Kilmarnock on a season-long loan deal, he had the chance to experience the league. He instantly arrived back a much better player.

The Wonderful Winter

Since then, Brendan Rodgers has given him his big break at the club. Back in the Winter of 2017, Rodgers entrusted Ajer with taking a role in the centre of his defence. Since then, the Norwegian has come on leaps and bounds.

The youngster is a throw-back to Virgil Van Dijk with the way he strolls out of defence and can go on jinking runs. This probably comes from being a midfielder when he was with Stromsgodset.

Dropping him for Benkovic, who’s only here for potentially six months, would be criminal. The Croatian is an extremely decent player with good pedigree in Croatia. But he doesn’t seem to see much of a long-term future in Glasgow.

Fillip Benkovic believes he could head back to Leicester City in January (Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images)

That’s understandable given he only just signed for Leicester in the summer for £13million. But Celtic need players who are going to be here for the long-haul. There’s still a chance Boyata could sign a contract and stay on, that’s why he must stay in there over the Croatian.

Benkovic, on the other hand, should only be used if necessary. Stalling Ajer’s development would only be detrimental to all parties.

There’s no doubt the on-loan Leicester man is here to get games under his belt. Rodgers is going to have to manage that how he sees fit, but man-management is the Celtic manager’s top attribute.

So long as he keeps progressing with Ajer and Boyata, Celtic will be in for a good campaign. Their defence will remain solid, and they’ll continue to develop their permanent assets.

Benkovic can be in and around the squad and play when cover is needed. Anything more, however, would be at Ajer’s expense.