Celtic star Ryan Christie credits Neil Lennon for helping him hit new heights

Midfielder hails manager’s input and says his guidance has made him a better player

Ryan Christie gets a hug from Neil Lennon after Celtic's Betfred Cup final win over Rangers in December. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
Ryan Christie gets a hug from Neil Lennon after Celtic's Betfred Cup final win over Rangers in December. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS

If any player epitomises the galvanizing effect Neil Lennon has had on Celtic’s nine-in-a-row winning squad over the past 15 months, it is Ryan Christie.

Lennon’s predecessor Brendan Rodgers rightly boasts a reputation for being able to develop and improve players as well as any manager in the modern game.

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Yet Christie, who had scored 19 goals in 43 appearances this season when football was suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, feels he has reached even higher standards due to the input of Lennon since he replaced Rodgers last year.

“The gaffer has been great for me personally,” said the Scotland midfielder. “ I can’t really thank him enough.

“He took over last February but I had my facial injury [in the Scottish Cup semi-final] and he didn’t really see me playing.

“It was in my head that maybe he had someone else for my position but from the start he has played me in my preferred role, off the striker.

“I have enjoyed every minute of it and I would say I have become a better player under him. The gaffer has given me a license to express myself more.

“I loved playing under Brendan Rodgers but it was probably a more rigid formation and a No 8 role. The current gaffer has let me loose a bit and you can see that in the goals and assists I have. I am glad that I have repaid him of sorts.”

Like the rest of his team-mates, Christie was celebrating in surreal circumstances on Monday after the SPFL board decided to call time on the 2019-20 Premiership campaign and declare Celtic champions on a points-per-game basis.

“It is a wee bit frustrating that we didn’t get to celebrate it with our fans, team-mates and staff,” he said.

“But it certainly doesn’t feel like any less of an achievement, that’s for sure. Hopefully, after everything calms down, we will get the chance to celebrate it in style with everyone. For now, we just have to sit tight until then.

“Nobody can dispute that it is fair to crown us champions now. When you look at how commanding we were in the league when football stopped, it was the right thing to do.

“It is frustrating not to get to finish the season off but we still look back at all the hard work of the season and how well we performed.” Christie admits the Celtic players were keenly aware of the intense scrutiny they came under at the end of December when they lost 2-1 at home to Rangers and their grip on the title appeared vulnerable.

“There is always pressure at Celtic and you feel it going into every game,” added the 25-year-old.

“But obviously at the end of December when we lost the Old Firm game it was spoken about so much. Everybody thought it was our turn to bow down.

“We have spoken a lot about the trip to Dubai in January but we went out there 
and pressed the reset button.

“We made sure we were as humble as we possibly could be and from the turn of the year we were frightening. Rangers couldn’t cope with that and to be 13 points clear when it stopped says a lot.

“The gaffer was really good at settling us down after that defeat in December and making sure we were firing on all cylinders.”

While Christie would have preferred to complete the full season on the pitch, his experience of watching the Bundesliga’s behind-closed-doors return on TV over the weekend has left him grateful that Scottish clubs did not face that prospect.

“There is no relief in not playing the games,” he told 
BBC Radio 5 live. “Everyone was just desperate to get back playing.

“But if there was going to be any football, it was going to be altered. Watching the German games at the weekend, it’s very strange with no fans.

“It looks like a training set-up and it’s all very strange, but everyone has said that these are unprecedented times.

“I suppose we are kind of lucky that we are not put in the bracket that we have to make a decision as the players. It’s been taken out of our hands.

“Absolutely, we wanted to play the games. Even at the weekend past, some of the boys were saying that at that point we probably would have been lifting the trophy. You miss out on that day with the fans at Celtic Park, so of course we wanted to play the games. Especially with the form we were in. We were playing some brilliant stuff and scoring a lot of goals. It was frustrating for everyone how things have 
ended.”

As Christie awaits further direction on when the Celtic players will return to training ahead of a yet to be scheduled 2020-21 season, there is an inevitable feeling of limbo.

“Since lockdown started, we have had weekly fitness programmes to follow,” he said. “But we have now been told to take a week to ten days off as it’s the end of the season.

“We will relax a bit and then hopefully get a proper date to come back in for pre-season training. We have chill time now, even though there isn’t much to do.”

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