In a season in which Celtic have limply surrendered the Scottish Premiership to Rangers, or will soon, one of the few positives from their 2020/21 campaign has been the continued excellence of Kristoffer Ajer.
The Hoops were on course to win a historic 10th title in a row in Scotland, but under the dismal late tenure of Neil Lennon, not even the efforts of the likes of Ajer and Odsonne Edouard could save the league trophy from heading across Glasgow to Ibrox.
Celtic’s inability to reach the Champions League in consecutive seasons has forced them to sell two prized assets in Moussa Dembele and Kieran Tierney and, with the current pandemic adding to the decline in revenue, at least one of Edouard and Ajer will be sold to balance the books.
It remains a real possibility that they will actually lose both.
What about Kristoffer Ajer?
John Kennedy recently took over at Celtic Park on a temporary basis after Lennon’s exit, and said the following about Ajer this week:
“Kris isn’t overly thinking about his future. For him it’s just about giving his best wherever he is.
“But I’ve no doubt that there will be interest in him. He’s still very young and he’s an international player.
“With his profile of speed, size, technique and ability – there’s going to be interest in him.
“When that comes it’ll be the club and Kris himself making that decision. It’s important for the club going forward to keep players like him.
So, what are some of the potential destinations for Ajer?
The team with the longest standing interest in Ajer in Serie A giants Milan, who intensified their scouting efforts in 2020/21 when they faced Celtic home and away in the Europa League group stage.
Milan had been interested in a loan-to-buy deal for Ajer in the summer and then in the January transfer window, but after failed to materialise the big Norwegian stayed in Glasgow.
What has potentially impacted any future move to Milan is that the Rossoneri eventually turned their attentions to Chelsea defender Fikayo Tomori, who they signed on loan with the option to buy this summer. The asking price for him currently stands at £26m (€30m), with CEO Paolo Maldini saying that Milan would attempt to negotiate this fee down in any summer talks.
If Chelsea don’t budge on their valuation, it is possible that Milan could reignite their interest in Ajer.
Both Edouard and Ajer have been linked with a move to Leicester City to reunite with former manager Brendan Rodgers, who rebuilt his reputation as one of the United Kingdom’s most talented coaches while at Celtic before earning a move back down south with the Foxes.
Unfortunately for Ajer, though, he faces a similar situation to that of Milan, as during the summer of 2020 Leicester parted with a reported £36.5m (€40m) to sign wonderkid defender Wesley Fofana from Saint-Etienne.
With Jonny Evans and Caglar Soyuncu in the defensive ranks, a big money move for Ajer will likely not be on the agenda for Leicester.
According to the Daily Record, Dortmund are one of the teams interested in Ajer, and a move to the Bundesliga could represent a very interesting option for the 22-year-old.
Whether it be under Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel, Lucien Favre, or, Marco Rose next season, Dortmund have always played out from the back and will continue to do so.
This matches the key attribute of Ajer as it his gallops forward out of defence into midfield and even further which sets him apart from most other defenders in his age group at the moment.
With Dortmund not looking at all healthy at the back this season with the ageing Mats Hummels and the error-prone Manuel Akanji, Ajer could be an ideal, affordable solution to come in and solidify things while also maintaining the tactic of building up play from the back.
Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone likes his defenders to, well, defend first and foremost, but over the past year he has changed his philosophy slightly to a more possession-based way of playing.
That includes much more touches for his defenders. Jose Gimenez’s touches per 90 in La Liga this season have increased from 56.7 to 69.3 from last year, Stefan Savic’s 57.7 to 61.4, and Felipe’s from 52.4 to 62.0.
With his central defenders now seeing much more of the ball, any defensive acquisition in the future for Atletico will need to have this attribute already polished – Ajer does.