KRISTOFFER Ajer is a teenager who knows his history. At night the Norwegian spends his spare time in Glasgow leafing through textbooks and journals on the subject, preparing for a potential life beyond football as part of a college course in his homeland.

During the day, he plies his trade for a club whose supporters hold the heritage of their club close to their hearts.

But it is a desire to make history which is driving the young centre-half on to be the best footballer he can be. A test he is passing with flying colours.

At just 19, Ajer has already been schooled in the art of the beautiful game. He is far from the finished article perhaps, but in these fledgling moments he has shown maturity and composure to handle the pressure of playing for a club the size of Celtic. It is a challenge many more senior have failed.

Ajer has played 15 times for Celtic’s first team this season since returning from a loan spell at Kilmarnock, contributing towards seven clean sheets. Perhaps the most notable match was against Rangers on December 30 in which he produced a stand-out performance.

“I have one more subject that’s history which I’ll take in the summer. Then I’ll stop until I retire,” said Ajer, speaking during Celtic’s break in Dubai. “It’s general history. I go back to Norway to take a big exam. I’ll do some studying the end of April and May then I’ll be ready.

“It’s good because you focus on football and your development in the morning and afternoon. You need something else to think about, and not just to sit down. Especially when you’re on your own in Glasgow. It really helps.

“I don’t have a plan yet. I’ll try to play football for as long as I can and see if I’m working with football or doing something completely different.”

Indiana Jones need not fret just yet if Ajer’s surge on a football park continues.

His reintegration into the Celtic fold has been a gradual one. Despite playing against Rosenborg at Parkhead on July 26, his involvement in the first team was limited to the odd appearance until the start of December, when he went on to make six appearances.

It was his loan spell at Kilmarnock that has turned Ajer into the assured centre-half Brendan Rodgers increasingly turns to these days. The last six months of the previous season was spent largely under the guidance of, funnily enough, former Rangers captain Lee McCulloch. It was an education Ajer embraced.

“He was really, really good for me,” the teenager said. “We would do extra training after each session with him and Peter Leven. The would help me a lot with my positioning and defending clearances. It was really helpful.

“He helped me a lot. He put pressure on me as well. He wanted me to perform in each game and he said I had an important role. That was important to me that he put faith in me. I had to perform and I think I did that.

“It’s been really important for me. My time at Celtic has been good for me, I’ve developed so much under the manager with the staff and players. I’ve had good time here, especially the loan at Kilmarnock to get out and play games in the Premiership. It’s been really, really good.

“I feel I have developed a lot over the last year. In the time I was at Kilmarnock we had to defend a lot, there was a lot of pressure. I learned many aspects of defending so it was really important. The staff, the fans, the players, everyone wanted to help me improve and I only have positive things to say about Kilmarnock from when I was there.”

Ajer is half-way through his deal at Celtic, two years on from signing from Start in his homeland for a relatively modest fee, which could be dwarfed if he fulfils the potential Rodgers sees in him and is moved on.

However, for the history student, it’s all about the here and now and playing a part in something special at Celtic. Currently one of the preferred options at centre-half, the Norwegian will face fresh competition from experienced German internationalist Marvin Compper who is also with the squad in Dubai. It is a prospect which doesn’t daunt Ajer, just encourages him.

“Obviously he was at Celtic Park when we played a few games but we had our first training session last Sunday and he was a really nice guy,” he said. “It’s really good for the club and especially for the young guys to have experience around you. I want to learn a lot from all the fantastic centre-halves we have at the club and I’ll learn from him.

“I’ve always liked pressure, but I put more pressure on myself than anyone else. It was a good experience to go there and I feel a much better player. At this club everyone is fighting for places and pushing each other in training every single day. That’s what is developing everyone. I want to play, everyone wants to play, but I know it’s a really tough challenge here at Celtic. It’s a massive club.

“December was really good for me. I just hope I’ll get more game time. I feel like the gaffer is really believing in everyone. He gives opportunities and you need to take them.

“I think I performed well in December but football can change so quickly. I never take it for granted that I will start the next game. I know I need to perform, I know it’s expected that we win. I will always look forward and never take it for granted.”

HeraldScotland | Sport

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