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Profit Players: Celtic’s Kristoffer Ajer has grown from teenage hopeful to earning comparisons with Cafu

This article forms part of our Profit Players feature series, which is where Football Transfer Tavern takes a look at how well a player has fared since being signed or sold, using statistical figures and statements from pundits to prove how good of a deal the club managed to achieve.

Ronny Deila’s two years as Celtic manager were something of a mixed bag. He won the league in both of his seasons in Glasgow, yet had the ignominy of two Champions League play-off defeats to Maribor and Malmo, as well as failure to get out of their Europa League group in 2015/16.

Former Celtic striker John Hartson’s polarised views on the Norwegian summed up the peaks and troughs of his reign – he hailed Deila in March 2015 for transforming the Hoops’ season four months after labelling him “clueless” and “a laughing stock“.

The last player that Deila brought to the club was defender and fellow countryman Kristoffer Ajer, who signed for Celtic in February 2016 for a fee which Herald Scotland reported as up to £650,000.

Ajer, who was only 17 at the time, would never play under Deila, as the manager left Celtic at the end of 2015/16, with the defender not making his Hoops debut until the start of the following campaign.

His only first-team appearance for the club in 2016/17 was in a Champions League qualifying win over Lincoln Red Imps and he continued his development on loan at Kilmarnock later that season, where he made 17 appearances.

The Norwegian youngster duly came back to his parent club with valuable Premiership experience under his belt and earned regular game-time at Celtic under Brendan Rodgers in 2017/18, playing 34 games in all competitions.

He impressed in the Europa League for the Hoops, having posted a 93% passing success rate and won three aerial duels per game in the competition that year. [via WhoScored]

He performed well enough to earn a new four-year contract at the club in May 2018, as per BBC, and played 45 times in all competitions the following season, being a core part of the squad that won a third successive domestic treble.

This season, Ajer has been one of the first names on Neil Lennon’s team sheet, starting in 19 of Celtic’s 21 matches, with one of the games he missed owing to injury. [via TransferMarkt]

He has again shown in the Europa League that he can perform quite well in continental action, with a solid 87.1% passing accuracy against Rennes (although the concession of a penalty blotted his copybook that night) and six successful aerial duels in the win over CFR Cluj.

The 21-year-old has switched effortlessly between centre-back and right-back this season, scoring two goals and setting up another from out wide, while he has won high praise from some pundits in recent months for his displays at the club.

In his column for the Evening Times last April, Hartson lauded Ajer’s display in a derby win over Rangers, commending him for shrugging off a painful blow early in the game and adding: “I like the way he plays out from the back. He reads the game a lot better and has improved in the air.”

During Celtic’s 3-1 win over Hearts in August, former Scotland midfielder Neil McCann told BBC‘s Sportsound: “Kristoffer Ajer is looking like Cafu here. He is bombing up and down the right flank and has the freedom of Celtic Park.”

Considering that Cafu is a two-time World Cup winner with Brazil, that is no faint praise.

Ajer took time to blossom at Celtic following his 2016 arrival, but has grown into an integral presence in the team, one lauded by the likes of Hartson and McCann for his marauding runs, composure on the ball and gladiatorial qualities.

When you think that the club only spent a six-figure sum to purchase him, he has proven a tremendous piece of business by the Scottish champions.

Celtic fans, just how good an addition has Ajer been to the current squad? Give us your views in the comments section below!

Profit Players: Celtic’s Kristoffer Ajer has grown from teenage hopeful to earning comparisons with Cafu
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Article title: Profit Players: Celtic’s Kristoffer Ajer has grown from teenage hopeful to earning comparisons with Cafu

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