Exclusive: Jackie McNamara on Kristoffer Ajer's potential as a Celtic right-back

By David Walton

December 16, 2020

Jackie McNamara has told 67HailHail that he doesn’t believe Kristoffer Ajer will want to be Celtic’s permanent new right-back.

The Hoops are reportedly on the lookout for a new right-back to allow Hatem Elhamed to depart in January (Scottish Sun). Should the Israeli depart, Jeremie Frimpong would be our only natural replacement.

But in the last two matches, Ajer’s displays in the position have suggested he could be the answer. The Norwegian set up the winner against Lille before impressing again against Kilmarnock on Sunday.

However, Jackie doesn’t think that Ajer will be too keen on the idea. Despite being impressed with what he’s had to offer at right-back, the ex-Celtic captain feels it’s only a temporary solution.

Speaking exclusively to 67HailHail, Jackie said: “I think he’s done alright. He’s nice and comfortable going forward. He’s got a good range when he starts moving. I think for him personally I don’t think it’s a position that he’ll want to play. Centre-half, full-back – it’s a lot tougher playing full-back in terms of the workload and getting up and down.

“I think he’ll enjoy the freshness of it. It’s just a bit different. But then he’ll want to go back into the middle and he’ll see that he’s missing that position. For his own career to be going and playing at international level as a centre-half rather than a full-back – he’ll want to be judged as a centre-back.

“I actually quite liked moving around. You get to learn the game, different positions, and people around you. But you have guys in there with big egos who think they should be the certain one in their position who don’t take to it. For me I enjoyed the freshness of it and learning the position.”

What Ajer has said previously about playing right-back for Celtic

This is actually a subject Ajer has spoken about in the past.

Remember, before Elhamed signed for Celtic in the summer of 2019, Lennon used the Norwegian as a full-back. He didn’t fully commit to whether he wanted to be a right-back at the time. All he would reveal was that he would play anywhere the manager asked him to. Here’s what he said on Celtic TV back in July 2019:

“I will always play where the gaffer puts me. So that will always be my thinking coming into every single game. I’ll always try to do my best in every single position I play, and hopefully that’s enough.

“Of course now I’m a centre-half, but if I’m to play a different position then I’m ready to do that as well. I want to develop so many points of my game.”

Celtic defender Kristoffer Ajer stars at right-back vs Kilmarnock (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images)

It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the idea. In fact Kris seemed keen to point out that he was primarily a centre-back. Whether this is something he would want to do for the long-term is up for debate.

Jackie of course has plenty of experience when it comes to mixing up positions. He makes a great point when he says he’ll want to be judged on his centre-back capabilities. That’s where he’s playing for Norway, so any permanent switch could see his place in the national team removed.

Ajer has also been linked with AC Milan based on his centre-back displays (The Herald). A switch to right-back could see that interest fall flat too.

Let’s see where this experiment takes us in the coming weeks.

In other news, we look back on what this Hearts star said about supporting Celtic back in 2013.