Over the last few weeks, talks of Kristoffer Ajer departing for the Premier League have developed momentum.
It makes sense. At 23, he’s a talented, young defender, who could apply for dual citizenship. With Brexit already causing work permit issues UK-wide, his near-naturalised status would be a huge boost. Not only that, Ajer is an established international player, who has already won 8 trophies in his career.
Given the indifferent-to-horrific defensive performances Celtic fans have got used to this season, it does feel a little strange. After all, we’re talking about one of our defenders in the context of a £12m move [Goal]. Still, despite it all, Ajer has shown this season that he’s a very capable player at times.
Very much the modern ball-playing centre-back, Ajer could also be utilised as a right-back or in defensive midfield. That positional flexibility would be a coup for a number of Premier League teams. He’s also more than capable of bringing the ball up the park himself. However, former Aston Villa man Gabriel Agbonlahor reckons that would be his downfall in England’s top flight.
Agbonlahor told Football Insider:
“I think he’s a good player but I don’t see him in the Premier League, to be honest.
“He might get found out in the Premier League. You’ve got to respect how big the Premier League is.
“I’m not sure about that, I don’t think he’s ready for the Premier League yet.
“He wouldn’t get the time on the ball in the Premier League. You can’t be flying forward in the Premier League like he does.”
It’d be nice to keep Kristoffer Ajer, but this is nonsense, and he could thrive
First off, is there any league in the world with a more inflated sense of self than the Premier League? We’ve seen some very mediocre Celtic players go down south and make an impact. Jos Hooiveld and Teemu Pukki are just two. From the other side, we’ve had plenty of players come up to Glasgow from the Premier League and fall on their face.
So, there’s that. But these are roughly the same things people said about Virgil van Dijk. Don’t get me wrong, van Dijk is on a different level, and his progression since joining Celtic has been remarkable.
However, Ajer will be acutely aware of the Dutchman’s trajectory and back himself to reach the top. With his raw abilities, you can see him doing that. Van Dijk also had faults in his game, and was by no means a £75m player at Celtic, after all.
Predictions about careers are a mug’s game, really. The brilliant thing about football is the variance in leagues, in playing styles, and in outside factors. How well a player settles at a club can be influenced, but not guaranteed. Certain aspects of development can unlock parts of a game players didn’t know they had. Mistakes and faults can be ironed out. There’s so much more to it than “he would flop there”.
It looked for all the world that Shane Duffy would be our star defender this season. There’s a Premier League player, we thought, job done. Not so much, as it turns out.
So yes, he’s raw, he occasionally dives out of the way of the ball, and he likes to run forward – these are fixable things, and the latter might actually be an advantage to a coach who likes his defenders joining attacks.
We understand the concerns, and it’s not like he’d be an immediate success either. Given time, though, Kristoffer Ajer can be a top Premier League defender. He has the skillset and attitude to do it, despite a shaky year.