Had things played out differently last year, Ryan Christie could have been lining up for Hibernian against Celtic tomorrow instead of the other way around. Then again, he may also have been starting for Aberdeen against Hamilton at Pittodrie or even turning out for mid-table League One crisis club Sunderland at home to Blackpool this afternoon.
All three options were on the table as Christie’s Parkhead career appeared to be ending without ever really having started. He was consistently regarded as surplus to requirements by then manager Brendan Rodgers, who sent him on loan to the Dons and then used him sparingly, if at all, as a substitute when he wasn’t left out entirely.
In August 2018 his Parkhead prospects seemed no brighter than those of Scott Allan, another gifted playmaker who was also ignored by Rodgers and who will be opposing Christie tomorrow.
“It’s strange when I look back at last summer and think of how different it could have all gone,” said the 24-year-old. “At the start of the transfer window, there was talk of me joining Aberdeen on a permanent deal and then, if John McGinn had gone to Celtic, there was talk of me going the other way. And there was the Sunderland talk as well.
“It went right down to deadline day when I was told to stay here and fight for my place. It was strange at the time but I’m pretty delighted with how it panned out.
“On deadline day I was pretty up and down. I came into training not knowing what would happen. The English window closed earlier than ours, so I was told if I was going to Sunderland then I’d have to get off the training pitch and jump in a car.
“It was pretty mad that day. Brendan Rodgers sat me down and told me that Moussa Dembele was leaving. He just said I’d be needed here and that all other interest was off.
“At the start of the season, when there were a few weeks left in the window, I was sitting in the stands after coming back from the loan spell at Aberdeen, where I’d played regularly. It was hard to adjust back to not even making the matchday squad.
“I felt frustrated and, at that point, I was thinking it was maybe time for a fresh start somewhere else. But after the manager told me I still had a fighting chance to prove myself, that was all I needed to know because I was still desperate to show my worth to Celtic.”
Christie’s chance finally arrived when he came off the bench in the Betfred Cup semi-final to play a key role in all the goals as Celtic beat Hearts 3-0. He hasn’t looked back, but there was no similar reprieve for Allan, pictured.
“Scotty was very unfortunate,” said Christie. “He was in a similar boat to me, both trying to make our way at the club in the first Treble season when the team was doing incredibly well. It was very difficult to get into that side.
“I trained with Scotty often enough to see how good a player he is and it’s nice to see him showing that now at Hibs. He’s getting that run of games he needed and he’s had some of the best assists I’ve seen this season. He’s one of many Hibs players we’ll have to watch out for.
“It definitely helped at the time that he was going through the same kind of conditions. You know how frustrating it is for one another. He went out on loan as well and that definitely helped him. I kept in touch with him when I was at Aberdeen, telling him how much I was enjoying getting my football again and it’s finally worked out for him too.”
Hibernian manager Jack Ross was also the man who attempted to lure Christie to the Stadium Of Light.
“I’m a big fan of Jack,” he said. “He did unbelievably well at St Mirren and was a bit unfortunate down at Sunderland. But he’s come in and steadied the Hibs ship a little bit and he’ll get them progressing again. That’s something you expect from Hibs because they are such a big team in Scottish football.”