WHEN Celtic kicked off their pre-season preparations with a friendly against Austrian minnows Wiener Viktoria on Wednesday evening, manager Ange Postecoglou started the evening with a young, untested striker up front, then finished it with an experienced international leading the line.

The contrast was stark between the players, but not perhaps in the way you would expect.

On the one hand, you had young Johnny Kenny, a 19-year-old that Celtic plucked from Irish side Sligo Rovers in January and who hadn’t been seen near the first team picture since. Handed his first start in a Celtic jersey, he showed bags of appetite, phenomenal work-rate, and no shortage of ability as he helped himself to two first-half goals.

On the other, and brought on at half-time for Kenny, you had Albian Ajeti. A 25-year-old Switzerland international who came to Celtic for a fee of £5m, and who previously cost West Ham United £8m to sign from FC Basel.

Without questioning Ajeti’s professionalism, none of the admirable qualities that were shown by Kenny were evident in his play. His touch was off, he was – perhaps understandably given his last match for Celtic was at the start of December – lacking in sharpness around the goal, and if anything, he looked a little disinterested.

Given how far down the Celtic pecking order he has fallen, with Kyogo and Giorgos Giakoumakis a mile ahead of him and even auxiliary forwards like Liel Abada trusted by manager Ange Postecoglou to lead the line ahead of him, this was a golden opportunity for the forward to impress his manager against a team so far out of their depth that they had leaked six goals in the first half of the match.

Even at this level though, against such a poor defence, Ajeti couldn’t make anything approaching an impact. Only one more goal would follow, and it would not come from the out-of-sorts Swiss, young Rocco Vata showing him how it should be done with a sweet finish after bursting in behind the backline.

Even allowing for his rustiness after so long out of the first-team picture, it was striking just how far off the pace Ajeti seemed to be, and how inadequate his skillset seemed to chime with the high energy, all-action style that Postecoglou demands from his team.

If anything, rather than showing his manager that he still has what it takes to provide a challenge or an alternative to Kyogo and Giakoumakis, he has perhaps played himself further down the pecking order. Going by the evidence of the other night, I know who I would prefer to throw on in an emergency out of the forwards on display.

Fans will forgive all manner of deficiencies in a player if they can bank on the one thing they know they would give if they were in the privileged position of being handed a jersey, and that is one hundred percent effort.

Rightly or wrongly, the perception Ajeti is now fighting is not only one of not quite being up to the level required to play for Celtic, but that he is also not willing to fight for the opportunity.

It is a shame, because there is a player in there somewhere. When Postecoglou was rather forced to play Ajeti up top in the early matches of last season, he showed that he has ability and can cause problems for defences. He was particularly impressive in the 4-3 defeat away to Real Betis, where he gave their seasoned defenders a torrid time of it.

Postecoglou consistently hammers home the message though that he only wants players at the club who are desperate to be there, and that has to be evident in their actions on the field, more so than in their rhetoric off of it.

The question is though, what do Celtic do with him? Here’s the rub. Ajeti still has two years to run on a lucrative contract, so moving him out of the door is not as straightforward as simply judging him surplus to requirements.

Celtic have invested heavily in Postecoglou’s vision this summer and in previous transfer windows, which is to their immense credit. The last thing they need right now is to factor in an expensive pay-off that may hamper their manager’s ability to find the players he needs for their tilt at the Champions League group stage.

As things stand though, it is a wholly unsatisfactory situation for both club and player.

There will be many fans who will question the hunger of a 25-year-old who is happy to sit in the stands and collect big wages, and the time may indeed come when Ajeti decides he has to initiate an exit in order to find the first-team football he clearly so desperately needs.

But on the other hand, Ajeti has a contract, one that nobody forced Celtic to hand him. He is well within his rights to collect on the deal, even if it may ultimately hinder his progression as a footballer.

A loan move with an option to buy, where the other club takes on a significant portion of his wages, would perhaps be the best solution Celtic could hope for. But even getting a deal like that may hinge on the player himself showing something  – anything – in pre-season that suggests he still has the appetite and the ability he once showed as a young player in Switzerland.