Guest author Christopher Gillespie pens this on enticing Kris Ajer to stay at Celtic by offering him the club captaincy.
Whether Celtic won the magical ten this season or not, the time to hit the reset button was always likely. The talk of Neil Lennon and his future has been done to death, and with no decision likely until the summer it’s time to put more focus into the future of the playing squad.
The incoming Dominic McKay will certainly be a busy man when he crosses the Celtic Park threshold, with decisions on a Director of Football and Manager a priority. Alongside that, he must try to convince the clubs best assets that their future is best placed at Celtic Park. It seems such a simple philosophy, however with the financial clout of the European big boys and the downturn due to the pandemic it’s highly improbable. With the club set again for an early summer return in Champions League qualifiers, there is more than likely going to be a patchwork squad stuck together to try and negotiate these rounds.
The players who have joined the club on loan this season will all return to their parent clubs and are unlikely for a return. The Duffy experiment never worked, Laxalt came in as a beacon of light but regressed into the melancholy atmosphere of this season. The other two loanees Jonjoe Kenny and Mo Elyounoussi on the other hand may have a route back to the club however with the sums discussed for a transfer it’s not at all likely.
Scott Brown now entering his 36th year is now at the crossroads between retirement and a long goodbye. Personally with the reduction in squad size a one year extension to his contract on the premise he is at most a squad player would make sense.
Squad players who have been signed as projects and then punted on loan, may have one final shot at redemption. Vakoun Bayo, Marian Shved and Jack Hendry will all return in the summer and should be given a clean slate one final time in preseason to prove their worth. There has been a large outlay on these players and with a new manager in place it may be the salvation to their Celtic careers.
Patryk Klimala, Albian Ajeti and Vasilias Barkas all arrived just prior or during the pandemic. Their settling in period has been complicated and they all in different ways haven’t hit the heights they should have. This isn’t a case for making any excuses but like the projects earlier they must be given a clean slate under a new, progressive and competent manager.
The younger players in the squad more than ever should be given the best opportunity to make the grade at Celtic. It’s a make or break season for Mikey Johnston, now in the first team for several seasons now yet having to overcome serious injuries, he must show he is the man to make that left wing his own position. Stephen Welsh will go down as a success in this dark season and he is well in the running for making the centre half position his own. But as he is still progressing it’s understandable that he can brought in and out of the team for an experienced defender. The club is likely to lose several young talents this summer in Karamoko Dembele, Armstrong Oko-Flex and Cameron Harper but this has to be the line in the sand for losing our best talents.
The club will have a small group of players to work with: Callum McGregor, David Turnbull, Ismaila Soro, Greg Taylor and James Forrest will all be pivotal in providing the stability going forward. However the main point of this article is how the club should try and retain one of its main assets. Although I feel it’s highly likely that Ryan Christie and Odsonne Edouard will be sold to the highest bidder, I believe the club must break the bank and provide all sorts of promises to keep Kristoffer Ajer.
Ajer, although still in his early twenties is a veteran within the Celtic team. Now five years at the club he has been a vital cog in the nine in a row, becoming the best defender in the league. After apparent interest from AC Milan, Ajer was publicised as being one of the want away players. Even if true his performances this season have been fantastic. He has played to form in order to seal a big move, rather than throw the toys out the pram. In this terrible season he is one of the only players to show real leadership every time he takes to the field. Despite the fantastic form of David Turnbull since December, Ajer in my opinion has been Celtic player of the season by some distance.
With Callum McGregor expected to be the next club captain after Scott Brown hangs up his boots, the perfect time is now to dangle the carrot of captaincy in front of Ajer to entice him to stay. He has everything to be a captain; fantastic leadership, brave, communicator and a giant of a man. Even though a move to the Premier League or to Europe would benefit him financially and competitively, making him the main man at the club and someone you could build around may attract him. Players of Scandinavian roots are traditionally known for loyalty and hard work, in this case Ajer and Celtic could really forge ahead together in building for the next era in the clubs history.
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