An Ajer move from Celtic to Milan looks less likely after last night

By Euan Davidson

December 4, 2020

It’s a move that’s been touted for a while now.

A.C. Milan’s interest in Kristoffer Ajer is legitimate. According to reports, the Rossoneri’s technical director and defensive legend Paolo Maldini has long admired the Norwegian (Gianluca Di Marzio).

In fact, a swap deal involving Diego Laxalt has been mooted, with the Serie A leaders looking to bolster numbers in their defence. However, after their 4-2 dismantling of the Bhoys last night, you’d forgive them if their interest cooled.

Ajer, by his lofty standards, had a shocker.

With all due respect to the Norway international, he was off it last night. It’s a familiar story this season.

Celtic star Kristoffer Ajer / (Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/SNS Group via Getty Images)

The Milan defeat in isolation

The fourth goal summed up Ajer’s night (BT Sport).

Not only did he arguably play Hauge onside in the build-up, his marking of Diaz was laughable. Watching the ball and not the man right next to him, his positioning allowed Milan to pile on the misery and finish the game off.

Earlier, he wasn’t strong enough in initial tackle as the ball came in from the left for Castillejo’s goal. Ajer’s lack of command allowed the Spaniard to finish home a loose ball, and let the Rossoneri draw level.

All season long, Celtic’s defending has been absolutely woeful. Celtic haven’t kept a clean sheet since shutting out Aberdeen on November 1st.

In the Europa League, where Ajer has needed to impress most, Celtic have conceded more goals than anyone else in continental competition. 3.4 goals a game is our average after last night (Sun).

A.C. Milan weren’t so hot defensively in their own right. Gabbia was nervous in a first-team berth, while Simon Kjaer came off injured in the 11th minute.

That said, they’re probably happier with their current options than they would be with Ajer at the moment.

Not happy: Kristoffer Ajer / (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Difficult season so far

Ajer just hasn’t looked like himself. The normally commanding centre-back has been averaging fewer interceptions and blocks compared to 19-20 in the Europa League (WhoScored?).

His rate of 1.7 tackles per match in the league this year illustrates the Norwegian’s increased workload. Teams have sense vulnerability at the back this year, and the extra scrutiny on Ajer has not helped him.

He’s still a young international centre-back with a great reputation. There’s no doubt he’s a good player, to my mind. Rodgers can be criticised for so many things, but converting Ajer from a central midfielder was a master-stroke, and I am convinced the 22-year-old will have a fantastic career.

Perhaps, though, it won’t be at A.C. Milan. Not for now anyway.

Celtic have been punished time and again in aerial duels. Corners are kyptonite for the Bhoys, and Ajer has to take his share of the blame for that. In open play, Celtic looked better at dealing with lofted passes, but that was down to the prowess of Nir Bitton.

Shane Duffy and Christopher Jullien have had plenty of critics this season. However, Ajer has been ever-present, and must take some responsibility for the team’s collective failings.

Kris Ajer celebrates with Norway / (Photo by VIDAR RUUD/NTB/AFP via Getty Images)

Our January prediction

We’d be surprised if scouts are excited about any Celtic player’s performances over the last couple of months.

A.C. Milan’s continued pursuit of Kristoffer Ajer may have disrupted him this season. With the resurgence of the Rossoneri as an elite club under Stefano Pioli, any player would be forgiven for letting hype distract them.

Ajer, though, seems unlikely to move in January. Simply put, none of the Celtic team who are casting glances elsewhere have earned a mid-season move to any “bigger” club.

He’s still a fantastic player on his day, though. That day will come for Ajer this season, we’re sure. Once a more established defensive line-up is available to Neil Lennon, the confidence will inevitably come back. The communication can only improve.

We’re cynical of any deal involving a swap for Diego Laxalt. Good as the Uruguayan is, young international centre-backs are at a premium. With the time and money invested on Kristoffer Ajer by Celtic, the club should not be looking to move him on for less than a sizeable fee.

Laxalt is no pensioner at 27, but as a move with long-term permeations, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense for Celtic. Additionally, the Uruguayan has had an erratic career, moving clubs a frankly startling number of times (Transfermarkt).

If Ajer wants a move, it would need to be for a considerable sum. Therefore, we don’t see anything happening next month. Revived form in the second half of the season may cause clubs like Milan to move for the Norwegian, but until next Summer, Ajer is a Celtic player.