The controller clattering that, back in October on international duty, Ryan Christie indulged in with his former Celtic team-mates Stuart Armstrong and Kieran Tierney had serious repercussions for the Parkhead attacker. He was forced to isolate after Southampton’s Armstrong tested positive for Covid-19 and rendered unavailable for a pivotal season’s first encounter with Rangers. Yet the camaraderie between the trio, even as they sat at distance on separate consoles, was now perhaps a precursor for all three battling one another on calls of duty in the English Premier League.
The latest reports that have Christie attracting interest from Burnley and Norwich are surely the first stages towards him making the break with the Glasgow club he joined from Inverness Caledonian Thistle six years ago. Indeed, there is a sense that the player, who it was revealed recently will be out of contract in January, was set on this path as he watched Tierney follow Armstrong south courtesy of a move to Arsenal two summers ago.
Christie, and his father Charlie, have never shied away from acknowledging a desire for the 26-year-old to broaden his football horizons. The reluctance to enter into negotiations over a possible contract extension at Celtic has been even more revealing. And on the back of a desperately disappointing season personally – as the previously enterprising and energised performer has appeared as diminished as the crumbling team around him – a summer parting may be in the interests of both parties.
It ought to be acknowledged that Christie in his pomp is an exceptional talent; a fizzing, game changer capable of producing wondrous strikes from seemingly impossible angles, and unpromising situations. His goal against Serbia in November’s Nations League play-off final, which effectively paved the way for Scotland to contest a first major finals in 23 years, will be treasured in these parts for ever more. As will his lachrymose post-match interview, when the tears he shed reflected the outpourings in living rooms across the nation.
If he was on the right side of collective emotions then, though, his faltering form has placed him on the wrong side of these with the Celtic support. It is difficult to trace when he became a consistent whipping boy for the club’s despairing followers, but he has never warranted the venomous abuse now unrelentingly meted out to him online.
The German suitor
Christie’s cause probably hasn’t been helped by the awareness that he would embrace a new challenge. It is believed that Celtic rejected an offer for him in January last year from a German suitor that held great appeal to him. Yet, he has never been less than committed on the pitch – he can play no other way but full pelt – and across the two seasons before this current, criminal campaign was instrumental in Celtic sweeping all before them. It is dreadfully unfair on him that his outstanding contribution over that period seems to have been completely forgotten by the swathes of the fanbase that only want to berate him over wayward shooting and perceived inadequacies.
Christie, as he demonstrated with his Serbian sniffles, is a self-aware, smart individual who wears his heart on his sleeve. It is believed that he has been wounded by the opprobrium shovelled his way. This might be a factor in both curious body language as he has found himself in and out of the Celtic side since the early months of the season, and failure even to celebrate when netting on occasion.
Like many players struggling to find their rhythm amidst growing enmity from their own support, he has been guilty of forcing play and snatching wildly at opportunities that not so long ago he was curling effortlessly into the top corner from 20-odd yards. Indeed, his meagre total of nine goals this season, which contrasts with a 19-strike haul in the Covid-19 abridged campaign that preceded it, can be considered the product of a confidence crisis. Which was also reflected in the attacker even calling himself out publicly in December over his goal radar going awry.
Scotland suffering too
This is not a good place to be, and is a horrible position for any player to extricate themselves. And if the Celtic faithful condemn Christie for looking for a new challenge, they should reflect that they have only assisted in creating the very circumstances that have made a Celtic parting appear inevitable.
They can choose to question what lies behind his falling short of previous standards in this calamitous campaign – where he has more recently found himself to be a round hole for the find-third pegs available in a midfield diamond, wherein David Turnbull has usurped him for the No.10 role. Yet, they might also want to consider how damaging such travails are about to prove in his career. When he scored in Serbia to set Scotland on the road to this summer’s Euros, he was a pivotal player for Steve Clarke, the strike his third in only two months in the international arena. It would have seemed inconceivable then he would not be a starter in the country’s first finals since France ’98. Now, though, it seems inconceivable that he will be, with Clarke selecting him for only one of the four games Scotland have contested in 2021, as the deployment of such as Che Adams, John McGinn, Ryan Fraser and Scott McTominay have squeezed his opportunities.
Sometimes players and clubs naturally drift apart, and both require fresh starts through no real fault of either. That point appears to have arrived for Christie and Celtic.