Newcastle United transfer target can follow in Virgil Van Dijk footsteps says ex-Magpies and Sunderland man Lee Clark

Former Newcastle United midfielder and coach Lee Clark has urged the Magpies to go ‘all in’ for Celtic defender Kristoffer Ajer – who he believes can follow in Virgil Van Dijk’s footsteps in the Premier League.

Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 6:00 am

In 2017 Clark signed Ajer for Kilmarnock, on loan from the Hoops, and admits he could see his potential back then.

Four years on, Clark, who played Ajer alongside another loan capture Sean Longstaff at Rugby Park, believes the Magpies must take a risk on the ‘raw’ but ‘unbelievably talented’ central defender – especially with talk the Norwegian international may be available for just £6million this summer.

"I signed Kristoffer the same day I signed Sean Longstaff. He is outstanding,” recalled Clark on the NUFC Matters YouTube channel.

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Lee Clark manager of Bury during the pre season friendly game against Huddersfield Town at Gigg Lane on July 16, 2017 in Bury, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)

"He is an outstanding player. I have seen quotes of £6-8million out there – he is definitely a player you can improve and he will be worth a lot more than that.

"When I signed him off Brendan (Rodgers) – he was manager of Celtic at the time – we had an agreement at the time to play him in midfield, even though we all knew he was a centre-half. It was so he could get used to playing with the ball in tight areas, and then eventually move back into centre-half with that ball-playing ability.

"When we had him at Kilmarnock he used to play centre-mid with Sean, I had the two of them in there.

"He is an unbelievable professional – he was captain of Norway when he was still a teenager. He is six foot six inches and is the type of player who always wants to stay back and do that bit extra. And for the price, there is a lot of ability there. There is some rawness and some rough edges that need smoothed out. There were a lot of clubs out there who didn’t want to take a risk on Virgil Van Dijk because he played in the Scottish league and didn’t get tested. There are similarities.

Norway's Kristoffer Ajer (L) fights for the ball with Montenegro's Stevan Jovetic (R) during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualification Group G football match between Montenegro and Norway at the Podgorica City Stadium, in Podgorica, on March 30, 2021.

"This is a player who could become a real asset for Newcastle United. He is a player who will do anything to get to the very top.

"At the kind of figures quoted I’d be taking him.”

For all the plaudits Ajer won in his first couple of seasons at Celtic Park, last year was a difficult campaign for the towering, ball-playing defender.

Clark, now manager of Sudanese side Al-Merrikh SC, believes the knock of Rangers winning the league and the pressure that has come with that will stand the player himself in good stead moving forward in his career.

He said: “He didn’t have a great season at Celtic, a club with massive expectations but is all a learning experience for the player.

"Roll the clock back and he was part of the treble-treble at Celtic, so he has gone from a massive high to a massive low.

"But for a young player, he has so much experience under his belt. I hope Newcastle take a risk and go all in for him.”

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