It’s just as well Ryan Christie has bulked up. Otherwise he might not have been capable of flinging open the window of opportunity quite as effectively as he has.
At half-time at BT Murrayfield last Sunday Christie had little to show for his efforts in the gym other than ten kilos’ worth of muscle and a washboard stomach. There was a place in the side in Germany against RB Leipzig but then this was a line-up described as a Celtic shadow side. He had started only one previous league game.
It’s unlikely there would be the clamour there is now to extend his contract had he not grasped the chance to impress with both hands after coming on against Hearts last weekend. A knock sustained by Olivier Ntcham combined with Brendan Rodgers’ wish to change things led to his introduction. Within 30 minutes of being sent on Christie had played a significant part in securing Celtic’s place in the Betfred Cup final.
The 23 year-old kept his place on Wednesday as Celtic began where they left off against Hearts, scoring four times in the first half in a 5-0 rout of Dundee. Christie’s second goal in two games wrapped things up at the start of the second half. Suddenly he’s gone from bit-part player to almost certain starter in tomorrow’s top-of-the-league clash with Hearts, again. Time in the gym, as well as watching what he eats, has been well spent.
“It hasn’t been easy,” he said. “It’s been a long, drawn-out process which started when I first joined Celtic. It’s nice that it’s finally paying dividends after a few years but it was something I knew I was going to have to work on.
“The sports science staff at the club are great. They would send me all sorts of programmes to ensure that I’m bulking up in the right way but also staying lean. However, I still have plenty more to do.”
The effects of such meticulous physical conditioning might be hard to ascertain. He still looks whippet-thin. As Christie noted, he wanted to stay as lean as possible in order to maximise some of his main qualities: agility as well as swiftness around the pitch.
These traits have survived the punishing workouts as was underlined by his goal on Wednesday night. Christie ghosted on to a clever through ball by Odsonne Edouard before slipping the ball past Jack Hamilton.
“For my goal on Wednesday, it was a fabulous through ball from Odsonne and all I had to do was stick it past the keeper,” he said. “Obviously, I was happy to score again but it was even better that the result was already in the bag. I’m also delighted that Odsonne got his goal because he deserved it for his tremendous link-up play.
“Everyone can now see the confidence we’re showing going forward. Hopefully, that will give other teams the fear of coming up against us, knowing that we can really punish them. We just need to keep our heads down and maintain this momentum.”
Celtic are eyeing a fifth successive league win tomorrow afternoon against Craig Levein’s side. Having overcome them in the cup last weekend the hosts are hoping to avenge a defeat at Tynecastle earlier in the season. A win would bring Celtic to within a point of the leaders and leave them in good shape for a crucial stage of the season, when the games come thick and fast.
Christie, whose contract expires at the end of the season and who is free to speak to other clubs from January, will continue seeking to prove he is worth a place in a team that is now beginning to gel. He might have added some brawn but he’s lost none of his Highlander’s self-effacement.
“It’s easy for me to come into this side – all I have to do is pass the ball to them!” he said. “With Broony [Scott Brown] being injured, Callum [McGregor] comes in there and he uses the ball so well. Every time he gets on it he wants to pass it forward. For the likes of myself and Tom [Rogic] in front of him, that’s an absolute joy.
“We’ll see what happens on Saturday,” he added, with regards to whether he can make it successive starts for the first time this season. “We’ve had a few injuries and that’s made everyone in the squad aware that they always need to be ready to come in and play their part.
“Due to the ridiculous amount of games between now and the end of the year there will be a lot of rotation so it’s all about coming in and making an impact when that opportunity comes.”