An issue has been exercising the mind of Ryan Christie in the past few days. Its nature perhaps says much about how comfortable he and his Celtic team-mates are in their own skins whenever occasions regarded as complete knee-knockers roll around. For in his quiet moments of late, it has not been today’s daddy of all derby League Cup finals he has been pondering. Instead, the 24-year-old has been questioning why his wallet has been made lighter courtesy of the Scottish champions’ dramatic 93rd minute winning goal against Hamilton Accies in midweek.
The crazed celebrations that followed Scott Brown’s strike were encapsulated by goalkeeper Fraser Forster thundering down the full length of the pitch like the BFG to heave in to his team-mates’ seething, triumphant huddle. An action that has turned out to be costly for Christie. “You’ll laugh at this, but I have been fined because he [Forster] got a bigger top speed in the game than me,” the Highlander said. “I got 30 kilometres an hour and he got 30.5. The ball was barely in the net and he was in my face. I was like ‘how did he get there?’. So I’ve been fined £20, to go in the Christmas fund. Broony [Scott Brown] issued it, although I actually think he was slower than the pair of us.”
Matters move at an unfineable pace at Celtic these days. Ahead of last year’s League Cup final, when he produced the winner in a 1-0 defeat of Aberdeen, Christie had never started a silverware-decider or a game against Rangers. This afternoon, he will be one of the pivotal figures as both of these challenges are fused. Four goals in his past three games have taken his Celtic tally for the season to 16, making him the club’s top scorer. His emergence as core performer for both club and country has come at a time when every few months seem to cast him as a history-maker. Yet the sheer volume of football they must negotiate means he and his band of brothers at Celtic Park must wear their remarkable feats lightly. Christie maintains that the prospect of a tenth straight domestic honour in an unprecedented silverware-snaffling run in the Scottish game, at a national stadium where they are on a 13-game winning streak, won’t frame their focus this afternoon.
“At the end of last season, with the treble treble, there were a few celebrations after that. That was probably the only time we looked back and thought what a big achievement it was. It was the same the time before [with the double treble],” he said. “As soon as you come in for pre-season, it is gone. It is harsh to say, but it is gone from our heads, we are just looking for future success.
“I think obviously when we come in [for pre-season], the qualifiers come round so soon that straight away our focus is on that. I wouldn’t really say anything like that [sense of making history] comes into our head. I think that is the whole mentality for everyone in the changing room, I think that is why we have done so well.
“Everyone is always striving to get more success. I don’t think it will be for a few more years when you have retired that you look back on this time and realise how successful the last couple of years were.”
The same goes for the 30-game winning cup-tie run that, simply because it is so far beyond what had ever previously seemed possible, must end sooner rather than later according to the law-of-averages argument.
“To be honest, we don’t think about it at all. I can say personally that the run is the last thing in my head,” Christie said. “It just comes as another game and obviously in the cup there’s the extra incentive that if you lose, you’re out, so you’re desperate to win even more. In terms of the run, we don’t feel any pressure of ‘When is it going to come to an end?’ Speaking to a few of the boys from the invincibles season – I didn’t play – they said the same thing. It was just one game at a time.
“I’ve noticed in my time at Celtic, now playing more, our mindset is that we manage to keep out all the outside pressures. We have big pressures on ourselves, big expectations and very high standards at this club. But we tend to put the pressures aside. It is a big game but we will treat it like any other.”
Christie also treats any attacking position like any other. He has played wide of a three behind Odsonne Edouard, as the No 10, and would relish playing at the apex of the frontline for either club or country, if required. “As far away from defence as possible…” he joked.
After three years when it looked like his £500,000 move from Inverness Caledonian Thistle might not work out, the likeliest cause of separation these days is if his talent were to be plundered by an English Premier League side. There have been preliminary discussions over a new deal to guard against such an event, and Christie gives the impression he is more James Forrest and Callum McGregor than Kieran Tierney and Stuart Armstrong. “I just want to focus on the football with cup finals and big games coming up, more towards the end of the season that will take care of itself,” he said. “I am playing for an unbelievable team and playing some of the best football of my career so I can’t think of a better place to kick on.”
His father Charlie is likely to feel the same, and is sure to be the proudest member of the Christie brood at Hampden this afternoon. The midfielder is amused at the notion of his dad living vicariously through him in blossoming at a Celtic that was his boyhood team but at which he could not make the breakthrough after taking the same route as his son in the late 1980s.
“It’s a nice story him playing here and me following the same path he did,” said Christie junior of his mentor dad. “He’s a mad Celtic fan and was when I was growing up and now he has the same buzz for Celtic and I’m playing as well. When I look back at the end of my career, I’m sure I’ll see it as a special journey.”