Celtic’s Ryan Christie on why he’s running on ‘a few extra per cent’

Facing up to Hearts, as Celtic will do on their home turf this afternoon, is entitled to make Ryan Christie feel like the planet is spinning twice as fast for him as anyone else.

The impressive Ryan Christie is looking for his ninth goal of the season when he lines up against Hearts. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
The impressive Ryan Christie is looking for his ninth goal of the season when he lines up against Hearts. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

The 24-year-old is in line to make only his third appearance against the Tynecastle team in the colours of the Scottish champions. He has only had six months of actual playing time as a first pick at Celtic. He has only started 41 games since his move from Inverness Caledonian Thistle four years ago this week.

Yet, so influential has he become to Neil Lennon’s side that, after Thursday’s 2-0 Europa League play-off first-leg win at home to AIK Stockholm, his manager was moved to claim that extraordinary energy levels make him the player that sets the tone for the entire team.

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As the club’s top scorer this season with eight goals, Christie is one of Celtic’s terrorising triumvirate alongside Odsonne Eduoard and James Forrest; the side’s go-to men when defences need broken down.

None of this would have seemed possible before his first Celtic outing against Hearts only last October, though. That took the form of a half-time introduction against Craig Levein’s side in the then goalless League Cup semi-final staged between the pair at Murrayfield. By earning a penalty and scoring a screamer to help claim Celtic a 3-0 victory, he transformed the encounter. No more so than the encounter transformed his status at the club.

“Thinking back to that game, it was the first time I’d stamped myself as a Celtic player and I kind of kicked on from there,” said the 24-year-old, who is now an established Scotland international.

“And I know it’s only ten months but it feels like a lifetime ago… It’s nice to look back and see how far I’ve come. I’ve been delighted at how things have gone but I’ve spoken to the gaffer about it and I can’t rest on my laurels, I need to keep pushing. I’m absolutely a better player now than I was then and I put that down to how many games I’ve played for Celtic and getting used to handling the crowd and dealing with big occasions.”

Christie doesn’t just handle big occasions, he positively thrives on them. The Invernessian seems to have an engine that allows him to go at a fuller throttle across a full 90 minutes than many players would struggle to sustain for more than a burst. It can feel as if he is buzzing round determined to make up for lost time at Celtic, following 18 months on loan at Aberdeen, and six weeks recovering from facial fractures that put a premature end to his breakthrough season at the club.

“I do feel as if I’ve got a few extra per cent at the moment, which is down to the guys putting us in great condition in pre-season,” he said. “It worked well for me that I came back from the injury and straight into pre-season to work hard. And I prefer it when the games come thick and fast because it gets you up to speed. When you come into these games, the only thing you can absolutely guarantee is working hard and hopefully everything else follows from that.”

What flows from being a major performer for Celtic is becoming public property and achieving a degree of celebrity that means having to deal with recognition in the streets. “I’m definitely getting spotted more [but] I’m not going to complain about it because the more game time I get, the happier I’ll be.”