Kristoffer Ajer believes moving back to defence is best for his career
When the Hoops snapped up one of Norwegian football’s hottest prospects, Ajer had made his name as a midfielder.
The talented teenager had already captained his club IK Start as a 16-year-old – the youngest ever to do so in the Tippeligaen – when he agreed a four-year deal with Ronny Deila at Celtic in February 2016.
Now though, under the guidance of Deila’s Celtic successor Brendan Rodgers, 6ft 5in Ajer is flourishing in the heart of defence and impressed in the first-half of the Hoops’ friendly defeat to Lyon at Parkhead on Saturday.
Ajer admits learning from Kolo Toure and Erik Sviatchenko followed by a loan spell at Kilmarnock in the second half of last season brought his game on leaps and bounds and the 19-year-old is comfortable in his new role.
Ajer said: “I had a really good chat with the gaffer when I came here about my position.
Brendan Rodgers has moulded Kristoffer Ajer into a centre-half
“I am now a centre-half. I always knew that would happen one day, but in Norway I was a midfielder as that was the best place for me to develop at that stage of my career.
“But now it’s better for me to focus on that defensive role and work on developing there.
“I have learned a lot in the last year.
“For the first six months, it was great working with the gaffer and learning from the top players here, then I had six months at Kilmarnock and that went well so I feel like I have improved as a player.
“I have worked on my positioning and how the gaffer wanted to play out from the back and my timing in the tackle is better.
“I feel much more in control of where I need to be when we don’t have the ball and are defending. I feel a lot more comfortable as a central defender.
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“I learned a lot over six months at Celtic and the other centre halves were really good with me – Kolo Toure was a massive help as was Erik Sviatchenko.”
Ajer played in the heart of a makeshift Celtic defence that managed to keep Lyon at bay before the break – new £4.5 million signing Olivier Ntcham also made an impressive start.
Rodgers had rested the entire starting 11 that beat Linfield 2-0 at Windsor Park on Friday and in the second half Lyon ruthlessly exposed a young Hoops side with Maxwel Cornet, Myziane Maolida, Nabil Fekir and Amine Gouiri completing a 4-0 win.
Celtic will be back at full-strength when Linfield come calling on Wednesday night and Celtic should progress to the Champions League third qualifying round to face either Rosenborg or Dundalk – who drew 1-1 in midweek.
Ajer knows if favourites Rosenborg prevail then the Hoops will have a tough test against his countrymen.
He said: “First, we have an important game against Linfield on Wednesday, we did well over there and now must make sure we go through. Rosenborg also have to get through but they are a good team who have done well in Norway.
“They will be a good opponent. They have strong attacking players who are good on the ball.
“The league is quite strong but it’s not that physical compared to here.
“I learned a lot on that side when I came here from guys like Broony, in terms of how to go into duels and win them.
“Celtic are a huge club with brilliant fans and a great history, while Rosenborg are in the biggest club in my country so it would really get a lot of attention.”