Albian Ajeti has endured a mixed time at Celtic, it’d be fair to say.
The Swiss international came out all-guns-blazing at the start of the season. He scored vital goals, match-winning goals, at a time when 10IAR seemed feasible. Through injuries, fitness worries and seemingly losing Neil Lennon’s faith, he was unceremoniously dropped. Dropped, to the point you wondered by December if he had a future at the club at all.
Albian Ajeti and his role at Celtic seem confusing. More recently, the ex-Hammer has been preferred next to Edouard, as a sort of shadow-striker. He moves into channels, creates space and opens up opportunities for Edouard and the midfield. As a facilitator, his contribution won’t show up in the same way goals and assists do.
That’s rather different from how he started. Seen as an 18-yard-box predator a la Leigh Griffiths, Ajeti thrived. Largely in Edouard’s absence, he was played on his own up front. It worked to some degree. He looked to have the sharpness and clinical nature that meant there’d be some interesting conversations ahead for Lennon.
So, what has Albian Ajeti actually achieved at Celtic? Already, there are some supporters suggesting that he’s a flop. That might not be entirely fair, but his production has dropped off significantly. Let’s explore the case for and against Ajeti.
Albian Ajeti has contributed for Celtic during a very weird season
The perception of Ajeti is, I’d argue, skewered by an important factor.
He calls to mind Georgios Samaras. There is no blasphemy directed at the big Greek striker, here, let’s be clear. But he had plenty of critics as well as fans. He was somewhere between a cult hero and an unfair figure of derision, depending on who you asked.
The folk I know who were able to see Samaras every other week in person seemed to like him more. Watching games in the pub or at home, Samaras would sometimes appear totally anonymous. If he wasn’t on form and scoring, he often looked invisible on TV. The folk in the stands, though? They would tell you about his work-rate, his running off the ball. Samaras would pull markers wide, as he made clever runs to open up space. Or, on the ball, he would maraud and force players into fouling him.
History has been kind to Samaras. 71 goals in 243 Celtic matches isn’t incredible for a striker [Transfermarkt]. But do you ever hear an unkind word about the big man these days?
The thesis here? If fans were allowed in Celtic Park, they’d like Ajeti more. There are elements of his game that don’t adapt well to watching on telly. If that sounds daft, bear in mind that if you had a full view of the pitch, it’d be easier to see what Ajeti brings.
Ajeti’s movement, like Samaras’, opens up space for Edouard to exploit. It’s no coincidence that Edouard has been scoring more goals next to the Swiss striker. We may not see an incredible strike rate from Ajeti, but he’s a striker who creates problems for defenders.
Much like Samaras, he might not get you 20 goals a season, but he’ll make others around him better. Going forward, that’s the kind of player Ajeti might be.
Or: Ajeti was an expensive mistake
Imagine your boss didn’t know who you were? Albian Ajeti got the full Mr. Burns treatment at West Ham. He was so ineffectual, David Moyes still couldn’t pick him out of a line-up.
Is Ajeti in danger of veering into anonymity at Celtic, too? There’s certainly a case there. At £5m, as a Celtic striker your remit is to score goals, especially with that price-tag. With Edouard likely to move on in the summer of 2021, Ajeti would’ve been brought in to replace the Frenchman’s contributions.
Not so much. There’s little to suggest he’s the man to do so, either.
Unlike his strike partners in either Eddy or Griffiths, Ajeti isn’t getting into spaces to score goals. In the Premiership, he’s averaging just 0.7 shots per game. Edouard averages 2.6, Griffiths 2.2 [all via WhoScored?].
Does he need to work harder? Or, is his unselfishness is costing him a better reputation at Celtic Park? In any event, he doesn’t shoot nearly enough for a £5m striker.
Time will tell for Ajeti
Ajeti may still become a prolific goal-scorer. His history, particularly at FC Basel, suggests he has the skills to [Transfermarkt]. Ultimately, though, it feels like he’s being shoehorned into a role that’s unfamiliar, and actually doing not too badly.
It completely depends on what we expect of him. As a faithful provider for Edouard, he’s actually played extremely well. Yes, his numbers are suffering as a result, but Edouard’s goals have come more regularly next to Ajeti; that’s a fact.
If Edouard goes as expected, however, we’re left to wonder what kind of role Ajeti is best suited for. How will the next Celtic boss use him? Honestly, we’ve no idea.
So perhaps we need to temper our expectations. It’s been a weird 20-21 for everyone in football, and several Celtic greats haven’t made a massive impact until their second or third seasons. Let’s show some patience before we consign Ajeti to a reputation that might be unfair.
READ MORE: Celtic coach brands youngster “one for the future”.