Scott Brown and Alfredo Morelos have dominated the headlines since Celtic’s 2-1 win over Rangers.
Brown for his goading of the Colombian striker, and Morelos for walking into his trap.
The numerous incidents involving Brown have so far overshadowed what might in time prove to be one of the game’s most significant moments.
As the match entered injury time, Ryan Kent ran at the Celtic defence. His cross was palmed out into traffic by keeper Scott Bain, and every fan in the stadium held their breath as Joe Worrall raced towards the ball, but it was the outstretched leg of Kristoffer Ajer that got their first.
His reaction was instantly iconic. Shunning the classic defender’s reaction of allowing himself to be patted on the back of the head by his keeper and shouting instructions, Ajer spun away, roared and punched the air. A moment of absolute, unalloyed joy. It was the celebration of someone who understood the importance of the game and how crucial his contribution had been to it.
It was also exactly the kind of enthusiasm that makes people fall in love with football. Playgrounds this week will be full of outstretched ‘Broony’ poses, but a few young defenders in the making will be replicating Ajer’s clenched fists.
Aged just 20, the Norwegian turned in a commanding performance at the heart of Celtic’s defence, and looked considerably more assured than his more experienced team-mate Dedryck Boyata. His improvement this season has possibly gone under the radar, but the Ajer’s been a key part of the run since January that has seen Celtic open up a 13-point gap at the top.
He’s comfortable with the ball at his feet, as borne out by his 93.7% passing accuracy and 77.2% successful dribble rate this season. As he showed yesterday, he’s also prepared to roll his sleeves up and get stuck in. If his team-mates are involved in a scuffle, Ajer is invariably among the first on the scene ready to defend them.
The determination that he showed to beat Joe Worrall to that loose ball in the six-yard box and his subsequent display of passion will have further endeared him to the Celtic support. The attitude Ajer has shown this season could prove invaluable in terms of his development, with potentially another 15 years ahead for him at a high level.
We may just have witnessed one of the defining moments of an excellent career.
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