'Celtic always special to me' - Kristoffer Ajer on memories of club and 'amazing' Brendan Rodgers
And the former Celtic centre-back chose to send out virtual hugs to another former manager he had worked under as a return to Hampden as the Euro 2024 closer had him reflecting on his time in Glasgow. Clarke helped shape Ajer’s early days in Scotland courtesy of a six-month loan period in early 2017 with the Kilmarnock side at that stage helmed by the national coach, the Norwegian having joined Celtic from homeland club Start six-month earlier. The move to provide the then 18-year-old with exposure to Scottish football initiated by Brendan Rodgers midway through the club’s invincibles treble-winning season.
And Ajer once again patrolling the turf of Scotland national stadium - where he racked up a host of victories in claiming Scottish Cup and League Cup honours as he proved a mainstay of Rodgers’ second treble, before banking two more after his departure in February 2019 - led to to ruminate on the importance of Rodgers in setting him on the path to the English Premier League, a £13.5m banked by Celtic making him the London club’s record signing in the summer of 2021.
“I loved my time in Scotland so it was great to be back again,” said the 25-year-old. “And it’s great to see my old manager back at Celtic as well and to see them doing so well again. I am really happy for them because Celtic will always be special to me. Brendan was amazing for me, the way he helped me, the way he spoke to me. The one-to-one conversations he had with all of the players was amazing. When I signed for Celtic at 16-years-old I was a central midfielder. I think the intention was always to become a centre back eventually, but the manager spotted that very early. I went out on loan to Kilmarnock and that was important for me to get some game time, but he always kept in tough. He’s a top, top manager. I am happy to see him back and doing well.” Ajer maintains he was certain everything would click into place for Rodgers at Celtic second-time around. “One hundred percent [I expected him to be successful when he came back in the summer],” he said. “I have no doubt he will be successful because he’s a fantastic manager.”
Facing a Scotland that pitted him against former Celtic team-mates Ryan Christie, Greg Taylor and Stuart Armstrong was also a reminder of the strong bonds that he forged at the club. “Ryan and Greg were groomsmen at my wedding,” he said. “It was special to see them and I wish them all the best for the summer. I “I have fantastic memories. I was standing there listening to the national anthem and really enjoying the moment. It made Sunday special. I remember we beat Motherwell here [in the 2018 Scottish Cup final], that was amazing. It was my first big cup final. The 1-0 win over Rangers[in the 2019 League Cup final] was also special.”