IT isn’t every footballer who would take kindly to not only being benched by their manager for a lengthy spell, but being told that their work ethic – or lack of one – was a major reason behind the decision. Particularly if said footballer is a big-money signing and struggling to get into a team who has been playing poorly.
Albian Ajeti though has responded to that exact situation in the way that his manager Neil Lennon would have wanted, not with the toys being thrown from the pram, but with the penny finally dropping that only hard work was going to improve his situation at Celtic.
The £5m man was rewarded with his first league start since November in Tuesday night’s win at Rugby Park, where he also bagged his first goal since late September, the first of what he hopes will be many as he looks to finally establish himself in the Celtic frontline.
“There are many choices you can make, but the best one is just to get the head down and keep working harder,” Ajeti said.
“That’s what I did and, even though it took a long time, I am back and it’s just about keeping healthy. If I do that, I can do my job.
“I have to understand it when he says something because he is my manager. If somebody expects that from me, then I have to try my best to give him that.
“I am very happy [with my goal against Kilmarnock]. It was a very long time since my last start.
“I’ve been struggling for a couple of weeks, months actually with some fitness problems or muscle injuries but I’m happy, first of all that I could play over 90 minutes, to help the team. And I hope I can keep my health and keep helping the team.
“I don’t put pressure on myself, because I know I can score or assist my teammates. But it’s always nice to score. But first of all, I’m happy with the three points and I’m happy I could play without any issues.
“Being out is part of football. You have to accept it and try to take to take the best things out of it.
“I am feeling good now and I hope that my muscles keep working well and stay healthy. This is the most important thing for the future because the rest will come after that. I’m sure the results will be good.
“The manager said to just keep working hard and be patient. He said ‘I know it is a hard time for you’. But like I said, this is football, this is a part of it.
“We all know how it works and how it is and I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but I am happy now to be back.
“This is what I want and this is what he wants. We had a lot of good and honest conversations, but I had been struggling with some injuries and it was fitness, so I need to keep my health.
“In football, there are things that you cannot always control. But the most important thing is to take the best aspects out of it and not to listen to what other people say.
“It’s about just doing your thing and that is what I am trying to do.”
If Ajeti’s main goal is to improve his overall contribution to his team, he is also hoping that an upturn in his own fortunes can be mirrored in those of his embattled manager. And he is optimistic that the emphatic win at Rugby Park can at least be the first step in a long journey to bring the supporters back onside too.
“Well first of all it was important for us,” he said. “We know we need to we need to get better too and we need to get more goals, more confidence.
“And I think was also important for the fans to show some reaction. We know we still have a lot of games to go, and we keep looking game by game, we started very well [against Kilmarnock] and it was a good reaction to the last game, so we keep working on.
“It’s not been easy for any one of us [this season]. The team has been struggling and no-one player can shine then. It is hard to make the difference.
“But when you stick together and shine as a team, that is what we did. We scored four goals and we managed to keep a clean sheet.
“It was a great team performance, we knew what we wanted to get. We performed very well. I think we deserved the three points.”