Celtic man Kristoffer Ajer has his critics, no doubt.
The converted midfielder is sometimes lambasted for his aerial presence and command of the 18-yard-box. At just 22, having already radically changed his game, Ajer is still adapting. When we signed the Norwegian from IK Start in 2016, it certainly wasn’t with a view to him leading Celtic’s defence.
So, he’s learnt on the fly on a big stage. He doesn’t quite have all the tools, but he’s still attracting glances from European giants like AC Milan. If he had longer on his contract, Ajer could fetch as much as £20m for the Bhoys, such is his esteem on the continent.
With Norwegian players such as Jens Petter Hauge, Martin Odegaard and Erling Haåland making an impression, Norwegian talent is going for premium prices, after all. Another feather in Ajer’s cap is, it turns out, his incredible proficiency passing the ball, as a new stat confirms.
Courtesy of Football Wonderkids, it turns out Ajer is topping an impressive table:
Most Passes Completed, U23s in Europe:
🇳🇴 Kristoffer Ajer – 1851 passes
🇵🇹 Rúben Dias – 1809
🇧🇫 Edmond Tapsoba – 1775
🇳🇱 Frenkie de Jong – 1711
🇫🇷 Benoit Badiashile – 1623
🇳🇱 Sven Botman – 1615
🇮🇹 Manuel Locatelli – 1529
🇳🇱 Teun Koopmeiners – 1456
🇫🇷 Olivier Boscagli – 1423
— Football Wonderkids (@fbwonderkids) March 1, 2021
Celtic man Kristoffer Ajer and his impressive stat in context
First off, to the “Pub League”, “my Nan could make 2000 passes as a centre-back for Celtic”, “laugh emoji” crowd, welcome. I hope you’re well.
Yes, Ajer plays at a less-heralded league than the English top-flight, or La Liga. Still, besting Rúben Dias and Frenkie de Jong for anything is impressive. It just is.
It also shows how good Ajer could become as a ball-playing centre-back. As a natural midfielder who was converted into a defensive role, again, he doesn’t have all the tools yet. His tackling is solid, but he’s part of a defence which has haemorrhaged goals from set-pieces. He’s not Paolo Maldini yet.
If he’s able to develop his defensive game, though, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he’ll become an absolute star. Time is on his side at 22, and if he were to leave Celtic to a top side with excellent coaches, the potential is scary. He’s a rough diamond, certainly, but a diamond nonetheless.
So, take some solace, Celtic supporters. Kristoffer Ajer is good at passing the ball. Given that Neil Lennon wasn’t always the keenest on playing it from the back, it’s doubly impressive all things considered.