STEPHEN McManus expressed surprise last night about Kris Ajer’s omission from the PFA Scotland young player of the year award nominations list and suggested it could be because everyone forgets how young he is, writes Stewart Fisher. The 6ft 5in Norwegian, who turned 21 just a fortnight ago, has played 44 matches for the reigning Premiership champions this season, and with Filip Benkovic and Dedryck Boyata likely to move on this summer, seems certain to a mainstay in that position going forward.

Brought to the club as a midfielder under Ronny Deila, Ajer earned the kudos of the fans for some crucial saving tackles in the vital 2-1 Old Firm win in March. “Kristoffer has been terrific and the modern-day defender,” said McManus, speaking at a McDonald’s Fun Football Centre in Renfrew. “He is one of those guys at our club when you forget how young they are.

“He steps into the game well, picks passes and he is becoming the dominant one in both boxes,” added McManus. “He had to earn his stripes on loan at Kilmarnock and I think that helped him. I believe the quicker you expose young players to first team football the better. If that is at Celtic, or on loan, we need to expose them to senior football as soon as we can.”

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Another two young men on the PFA Scotland shortlist who McManus knows very well are David Turnbull and Jake Hastie, both of whom he worked during his time coaching the Motherwell youth ranks. With Hastie having signed a pre-contract to join Rangers this summer and Turnbull is much in demand also, McManus sees no reason why both young men cannot kick on again.

“The two of them have been excellent,” he said. “As young kids they were excellent, that was what separated them. You’ve got Alan Campbell and Chris Cadden too, thee ones who are there just now are there through hard work and determination. They have taken bumps along the way, suffered loss of form, losses of confidence but they have shown resilience and allc redit to them.

“Absolutely I can see them kicking on again. There are a lot of talented young players in this county and at Celtic it is our job to keep producing these players. For the national team the more players we have got playing week in week out, and in European nights, can only help the Scotland national team.

Cutting his teeth at both Motherwell and now Celtic, McManus is making his way in coaching, having recently completed his Pro Licence with the SFA , which included a stint learning at Philadelphia Union in the MLS under former Rangers and Scotland youth supremo Tommy Wilson.

**Stephen McManus was speaking at one of McDonald’s Fun Football Centres. The McDonald’s and Scottish FA Fun Football programme is designed to introduce children to football in a relaxed, fun environment. Register for your nearest session at