Kristoffer Ajer displays maturity far beyond his tender years

Kristoffer Ajer will join up with Celtic in the summer after signing a four-year contract. Picture: SNS
Kristoffer Ajer will join up with Celtic in the summer after signing a four-year contract. Picture: SNS
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Kristoffer Ajer has never had to look far for help and inspiration on his way to becoming one of Norwegian football’s brightest young talents.

As the midfielder penned a four-year contract with Celtic yesterday, he was quick to pay tribute to his parents for their role in a rapid rise to prominence which saw him become the youngest ever captain in Norwegian top-flight history when he wore the armband for Start at just 16 years old.

Still only two months away from his 18th birthday, Ajer will continue to lean heavily on the influence of his father Jan Tore and mother Randi who will join him in Glasgow when he formally joins the Scottish champions in June.

While dad was Ajer’s first football coach, mum’s part in his development has a less conventional back story. Widowed in 1990 when her first husband died in a skydiving accident while they were both serving in the Norwegian military, Randi had two young daughters aged three and five at the time.

She channeled her grief into becoming an education officer and psychiatric nurse, writing a self-help book published to popular acclaim in Norway in 2011.

Re-married to Jan Tore, they were both at Celtic Park yesterday to share their son’s pride at joining Celtic.

“I would not be sitting here without them,” said Ajer. “They have been really important for me. My father trained me in my early years as a footballer, while my mother encouraged me both in pursuing my football but also in my education.

“She has written the book about life and how you deal with things in your life. My parents will both travel with me and stay with me for a few months when I come back here to live. It will help during the time when I can develop into the Celtic squad and learn how to live in Glasgow.

“I am really thankful for that, because it is a big step to leave all of my friends, family and my girlfriend back in Norway.”

Karoline Olsen, Ajer’s girlfriend, is a professional handball player and represented Norway at the European Youth Games in Georgia last year.

“She is playing handball as a career and there is no handball here in Scotland,” he said. “So she will stay in Norway, but that’s OK. Football has been my whole life, so I cannot think about anything else I want to do.

“I will go back to Norway and finish my high school education for this year, which my parents always encouraged me to do, before I join Celtic in June.”

It is not just Ajer’s 6ft 5in frame which gives him a presence beyond his years. He also speaks with the kind of self-assurance normally associated with far more experienced players.

With almost 50 first-team appearances for Start in the Norwegian Tippeligaen already, he intends to bring the confidence which saw him appointed skipper there at 16 directly into his efforts to earn a regular place in Celtic’s starting line-up.

“I was comfortable as captain of Start,” he said. “I was always captain in my youth teams and I was grateful when the coach at Start gave me the role.

“To be honest, I look at myself as a captain whether I have the armband or not because I always scream and demand everything from myself and the rest of the players.

“I’m not scared of saying ‘this is me and this is what I stand for’. Now I have to prove myself good enough at Celtic and I am not going to hide behind the rest of the squad.

“I’m told the demands are high here and I am ready for that. I’m ready to try and win every weekend. That’s why I signed. You have to win silverware every year at Celtic and that is what I want to do.”

Like his fellow teenager Martin Odegaard, who was nurtured by Deila at Stromsgodset before joining Real Madrid last year, Ajer had a choice of major European clubs at which to take the next step in his career.

Liverpool, Tottenham, Paris St Germain, Roma and Hertha Berlin were all interested in him, along with Rosenborg and Molde if he had chosen to stay in Norway, but he has no doubts he has made the right decision.

“I don’t look at Celtic as a ‘middle step’ towards something else,” he said. “I look at it as a really big club with a huge fanbase where I want to play and where I have an opportunity.

“When I was here on trial last month, Ronny Deila told me it was the perfect club for me right now. It is possible for me to play first-team football for Celtic, but of course I know I have to prove I’m good enough for that.”

While Ajer can also play in central defence, it is as a defensive midfielder that he intends to make his mark at Celtic.

“I’m a hard working, holding midfield player who gives everything for my team and always tries to get three points,” said the Norwegian under-19 international.

“I have many role models, such as Patrick Vieira who I watch on YouTube. I know there are already many good midfield players at Celtic and I look forward to learning from them and playing beside them.”