In the space of just over a year, Ryan Christie has gone from Celtic outcast to Parkhead powerhouse.
A double in Sunday’s convincing 4-1 win over Ross County helped Celtic maintain their narrow advantage over Rangers at the top of the Scottish Premiership. It also took his goal tally to 15 for the season, two ahead of Odsonne Edouard. That form is a continuation of an exceptional 2018/19 campaign where he truly announced himself on the big stage. Neil Lennon was effusive in his praise of the attacking midfielder in his post-match interview. He praised him as “an outstanding footballer” and a joy to watch.
Christie has had to fight and scrap for his place in the Celtic team. Now he has it, he doesn’t appear willing to give it up any time soon.
Then 20-year old Christie signed for the Hoops in 2015 from Inverness Caledonian Thistle, fresh off being named the Scottish football writer’s Young Player of the Year. In the following three years, though, he made only 13 appearances for the first team – all but five of those were as a substitute (Transfermarkt). Instead, he spent much of his time away from the club on loan. Two spells at Aberdeen were productive but fizzled to an unsatisfying end after just one goal in his last 17 appearances at Pittodrie (Soccerbase).
Last summer, he returned to Celtic Park at a crossroads in his career. Brendan Rodgers squad had just romped away with the league and completed another domestic treble. Into the final year of his contract, he faced the herculean task of breaking into that team. Tom Rogic, Callum McGregor, Olivier Ntcham, James Forrest and Scott Sinclair were all established players ahead of Christie in the pecking order.
Appearances in the first two months of the season were sporadic and usually from the bench. On transfer deadline day he was even linked with a move away from Glasgow to Sunderland. The League Cup semi-final against Hearts on October 28, 2018, would change all that, though.
Seizing his chance
On as a half time substitute for the injured Ntcham, Christie seized his opportunity in spectacular style. Two assists and a brilliant third goal inspired Celtic to a resounding victory. It forced everyone in attendance and watching at home take notice. From that point on, there was no stopping him. A run of five goals in six league games from October to December (Transfermarkt) solidified his emerging status as a key player. The winning goal in the League Cup final a month later over Aberdeen earned the full admiration of the support.
With Rogic beset by injury problems, Christie was able to retain his place in the team and finished the year with 11 goals and nine assists (Transfermarkt). A horrible facial injury suffered in the Scottish Cup semi-final sadly cut his season short, but what a season it had been. The club had responded to his form by rewarding him with a new three-year contract. It would be no surprise to see that extended sooner rather than later. International caps followed suit and he scored his first Scotland goal in the 2-1 win over Cyprus last month with a typically classy finish.
How about that for a first Scotland goal?
👏 Ryan Christie 🏴 pic.twitter.com/VluWU1UXs7
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) November 17, 2019
What have his managers said?
The defining characteristics of Christie’s game when he broke into the side last year was the energy he brought to Celtic’s midfield. Rodgers was quick to highlight the physical progression he had made off the park:
“There’s great pride when you see what Ryan Christie has been able to do,” Rodgers said. “I was pretty clear when I came in that physically, he wasn’t at that level. There was a plan in place for him, but it’s up to him to see whether that plan is correct and if he really wants to follow it. He goes away and he follows it and does the work to get his body strength, comes back and gets measured and all of that – and to see that reward now is great.”
When Rodgers left for Leicester in February, Christie couldn’t have asked for a better replacement than Neil Lennon. The Northern Irishman had previously tried to sign the Scot while he was Hibs boss and described him as “exceptional” after a hat-trick against St Johnstone in their opening league game. That hat-trick and his four goals in Champions League qualifying set the tone for another season of astounding progress. After his penalty earned Celtic a draw with Rennes in the Europa League, Lennon had this to say:
“He’s been superb for me in all the games so far and he’s become a vital player for us. His style and creativity, his energy and fitness levels are fantastic and it’s infectious for the rest of the players.”
There seems to be no ceiling to what Christie can achieve as he continues to perform domestically and on the European stage (Whoscored). By September 1, he had already matched that measly total of 13 appearances from his first three years. He is an outcast no more.