KRISTOFFER AJER will face Rosenborg for the second time in the Champions League on Wednesday and rather being a rookie like last year he is now a first pick Celtic player who has the full confidence of his manager.
Indeed Rodgers took time to speak about the progress that the 20 year old Norwegian has made over the past twelve months and of course in that time he has also signed a new long term contract to stay and develop as a Celtic player.
“Kristoffer has had lots of experiences now. He’s made big steps,” Rodgers noted.
“He’s still only 20 years of age, but he’s really dominant. He’s a natural leader as a young guy and he’s improving all the time.
“You always think everything that comes through the middle of the pitch, he’s going to get his head on it.
“The speed of his passing is also getting better.
“He was thrown in last summer but a year later he’s a Norwegian international, a Treble winner and he’s also developing really well.
“Kristoffer has earned the respect of his team-mates, not just in games but because of how he is in training.
“He’s got a lot of strength and he’s a quick learner. He’s a bright boy who takes information on very quickly.
“Every day in training he wants to win, he wants to improve and get better. He’s progressing very well.”
Of course the price Rodgers pays for developing his players is the that other clubs are increasingly taking note of what’s happening at Celtic and the manager knows that there will always be interest in his stars from elsewhere.
“Will other clubs look at him? I’ve no doubt because he’s a young central defender who can play. But first and foremost you have to be able to defend. Kris doesn’t take many risks, which is the key point.
“He’s come from Norway, where he played as a number 10 scoring goals, to developing as a centre-half. He has to be able to defend, first and foremost. But if you can build up play as well, you can be critical for the team and how we play.
“Kris is very comfortable at that. His rampaging runs from defence are part of how we build the game from behind.
“It helps when you’ve got someone of that quality. But it depends where the space is. If you are playing against one striker, the space is on the outside with the two outside centre-backs.
“But if it’s against a two, the central guy like Kris has the space to go forward. When he attacks and steps in, he breaks lines very well.
“You get players like that. They find themselves on the edge of the box but the problem is, they have to get back.
“I remember Gerry Taggart doing that for Leicester. He used to step forward and just barge everyone out of his way.
“Kris is very elegant and the comfort he feels with the ball is very important. I need that with all of the players.
“We need that to pass and play the way we want. But it’s really important that they can defend as well.”
Ajer would almost certainly have started on Wednesday even if Rodgers had all his defenders available. However with so many experienced defenders missing through suspension, injury or on post World Cup breaks, the Celtic manager is banking on Ajer to stand up and be counted.