When Stale Solbakken looks across the pitch at his Celtic rivals tomorrow night, he’ll see a player he may think could’ve been in his side.
Yes, Kristoffer Ajer could’ve been a Copenhagen player instead of opting for Parkhead in February 2016. The big Norwegian signed at Celtic from Start in Norway as a relative unknown.
Solbakken, who was still Copenhagen coach at the time, was aware of the player. Yet instead of making a move for him, they allowed Celtic to swoop in unrivaled to secure his services.
Fast forward four years and Ajer is a key cog of Celtic’s back-line and getting set for a return to Scandinavia in green-and-white. Speaking in the Scotsman, however, Solbakken stated that he perhaps has regrets about not signing the midfielder-turned-centre-back.
“I don’t think we could afford any of Celtic’s players. But maybe I should have signed Ajer when he was 17 and playing in Norway. We were probably too slow then.
“We knew about him very early when he was a striker and then a central midfielder at Start, their captain when he was very young. Maybe we should have pulled the trigger then.
“But that’s the only one I think we could have afforded in competition with Celtic.”
Ajer has a job on his hands tomorrow
Despite the sheer quality we know Ajer has, he had a bit of a dodgy game on Sunday at Aberdeen. Yes, he scored the winner, but even he will know he didn’t perform well in the back three alongside Christopher Jullien and Nir Bitton.
It was only when he moved to right-back as part of a back-four when he started making a more positive impact. With Jeremie Frimpong available, however, it’s highly doubtful he’ll play there again. It’s also totally unclear as to what formation Neil Lennon will go with.
Regardless of what it is, you can probably bank that Ajer starts at centre-back. That should, going by Copenhagen’s recent matches, mean he’s up against the powerful Dame N’Doye and Michael Santos.
N’Doye should give Ajer plenty to handle, and in a way is the perfect test for him to bounce back from his general performance in Aberdeen. His confidence should also be sky-high regardless considering his superb winner at the weekend.
In fairness to the Norwegian though, he’s turned up in Europe this season. Ajer has played in 11 of our 12 Europa League games (Transfermarkt). The only one he didn’t feature in was the trip to Nomme Kalju when Celtic were already 5-0 up in a Champions League qualifier. Therefore, he’s been integral to wins against Cluj, Rennes, and Lazio respectively.
We shouldn’t have any fears over his ability to perform at the Telia Parken tomorrow night, but he’ll feel he has something to prove regardless. That can only be a good thing.