While the haggling for Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard has been played out in the press, it’s easy to forget other names like Kristoffer Ajer and Ryan Christie.
Over recent seasons, Ajer and Christie have been a huge part of the team. Between them, they’ve made over 300 appearances for the Bhoys [Transfermarkt]. Comparatively, given the youthful feel of the squad, their experience is invaluable.
Yet, both have contracts running out around a year from now. Both are established international players, still young (although Christie is 26) and will surely have no shortage of offers from top leagues around Europe.
But what are they worth, in a market that’s still skewed by Neymar’s move to PSG in 2017 [BBC]? There’s both the objective and the subjective in this, of course. A player is only really worth as much as a club is willing to pay, after all. Let’s combine a few factors and see if we can scientifically, in a way that’s entirely unclouded by bias, put a reasonable price tag on Ajer and Christie.
Kristoffer Ajer – huge for Celtic
Ajer has to be considered one of Celtic’s best players by this point. Signed in 2016 from IK Start, the Ronny Deila signing has converted to a centre-back role over recent seasons, and it’s done him wonders. Capped 21 times by Norway, the nation’s football fans are expecting massive things from the Bhoys defender.
Does that involve a move elsewhere? Sadly, in the current market, it might. We’ve seen centre-backs leave us for bigger stages and prosper. Funnily enough, Ajer has shown shades of the name you’re thinking of right now. Against Livingston in particular, the Norwegian had a van Dijk-esque performance, driving Celtic forward from the back and marauding into the opposition half.
His value, though, will have taken a hit from Celtic’s defensive performances overall this season. In Europe, Neil Lennon was still trying to figure out his best defence. We played in the Europa League during a significant injury crisis, and an unsettled back three or four looked shaky at best, and amateurish at worse.
At 22, though, he’ll only improve. He has the kind of potential that European clubs dream about, and any defensive deficiencies can be coached out of his game.
Better players have had worse seasons than Ajer has this year. Given his technical ability, and his experience in the midfield, he can offer what so few centre-backs can. His range of passing, ability to play across a back four or even as a holding midfielder offers versatility that’s hard to match.
Therefore, we’d value Kristoffer Ajer at £20m.
Ryan Christie – more difficult to evaluate
Plenty of folk will say “Sell him? I’ll drive him to you myself!” about Ryan Christie this season. What short memories we have. In 19-20, Ryan Christie was a key player for Celtic, and honestly, he’s not even been particularly bad this time round either.
Last season’s stats are pretty staggering. In 24 league outings, he scored 11 and assisted 11. He also bagged a trio of goals in the Europa League, and had six goal involvements in six games when Celtic were in the Champions League qualifying rounds [Transfermarkt].
This time out, he’s scored four and assisted 10 Premiership goals [Transfermarkt]. All in, for the Bhoys, he’s been directly involved in 79 goals in 136 competitive appearances.
Apparently, that kind of production is a luxury. Christie has been criticised for his work rate and his shooting from range this season. The latter, I’ll give you – he’s often wayward when attempting shots from outside the box, and he needs to take fewer speculative efforts.
But overall, his contribution to Celtic over the last few years has been pretty remarkable. Yet, with only another year on his contract, it might be a case of not realising what we have until it’s gone.
Now, attackers tend to be valued higher than their defensive counterparts. So you might think we’re going to top the mooted fee for Ajer, but that isn’t the case. While he’s been arguably better than Stuart Armstrong, the excellently-coiffed left us for around £7m three years ago [BBC]. Therefore, we’d project Ryan Christie’s true value to be at around £10m.
Ultimately, Scottish players don’t command fees that reflect their true value. Apart from Oli McBurnie, who is a rare case of the opposite happening. We think Celtic would do well to hit eight figures for the attacking midfielder. Anything less would be an under-evaluation.