John Kennedy slams Stale Solebakken for claim that Kristoffer Ajer "must leave" Celtic

John Kennedy has accused Norway manager Stale Solbakken of disrespecting Celtic and Scottish football over his demand that Kristoffer Ajer leaves the Glasgow club in the summer.

John Kennedy believes Kristoffer Ajer's development has been significant because he has been at Celtic - not stunted by that fact, as the player's Norway manager Stale Solbakken effectively suggested last week. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

In an unusual and withering intervention during the international break, Solbakkan claimed the 22-year-old defender – who is approaching the final 12 months of his current contract – had got into “some [bad] habits that you do not notice until he meets better opposition at international level or Europe”.

The former Copenhagen manager, who guided the Danish club to Europa League last 32 success against Celtic in February 2019, claimed that was the product of not having “enough challenges in everyday life”. For that reason, he said, “Kristoffer has to change the league now, he must” and “should go to one of the five major leagues…[and] will do that [as he has] the qualities to play in those leagues, and I am calm about that.”

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Kennedy has hit back that it is precisely Celtic’s development of the player across the past five years that has made him of interest to clubs in the big five league – Newcastle United reported to be readying an, undervaluing, £8million bid for the centre-back. Ajer was known to be unsettled last summer over his desire to move on. He buckled down, though, and has performed soundly in a tumultuous campaign. However, the loss of 18 set-piece goals as Celtic’s authority has drained has not reflected well on him, not least when a handful have come against some of the top flight’s more modest opposition. There is not question than Ajer’s value and the status of suitors likely to pursue him this summer have lowered as a result of Celtic’s troubles over the past nine months.

“I thought it was disrespectful to both the league and the club,” Kennedy said of Solbakken’s slighting of both. “We are a massive club in our own right who compete in Europe every season. To come out with such a strong statement about what a player must do, I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.

“It’s not his position to say that. If he wanted to have a private conversation with Kris over that, fine. But I certainly don’t think he should be coming out publicly and telling a player what he should or shouldn’t do. Especially when you play at a club like Celtic. Anybody who has been at Celtic will have realised the size of it the minute they stepped through the door. The magnitude of it, the fan base and the expectation.

“No doubt about it, we have had a huge part in Kris’s career to date and how he has developed into the player he is. He has played a massive part in that development himself because he commits himself to it every day. [When it comes to Kris being elsewhere] no doubt there will be interest in Kris because of his profile, his age and where he is at. But I found the statement and the comments disrespectful towards ourselves.”

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