RYAN Christie may be on the brink of a big money move to England’s Premier League but Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager John Hughes would demand the talented youngster back on a year’s loan.
Liverpool, Swansea City and Fulham are the latest clubs to be credited with an interest in the Scotland under 21 star, the son of club legend Charlie.
Hughes admits he “cannot afford” to lose the 20-year-old attacker, who starred as Caley Thistle won the Scottish Cup and qualified for Europe last season, and would fight for a loan-back clause in any deal.
Hughes said: “It was Liverpool last week, Swansea this week and I’ve no doubt it will be someone else next week. It’s no surprise to me – Ryan is a really talented footballer.
“I’m honest enough to tell you we need him in the team this year. I don’t want to put too much pressure on one so young, but he’s a real talent. His technical ability is fantastic and he’s getting better and stronger all the time.
“We cannot afford to lose him, but we would never stand in the kid’s way.
“I totally understand that, if he can go play in the English Premiership, he will want to. Brian Rice, my assistant manager, has worked down at Watford and Burnley and he said Ryan would step on to any English Premiership training ground and not look out of place.
“I’m quite sure that, if the money was good, then, as a club, we would want to sell him. But I think a crucial part of it would be that he would have to stay for another year here on loan.”
Caley Thistle would be confident of commanding a seven-figure fee for Christie who has been compared to Ryan Gauld, Sporting Lisbon’s £3 million capture from Dundee United.
Hughes has signed Iain Vigurs to help ease current injury woes, but is desperately short of natural strikers. Christie and summer signings Dani Lopez and Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo all fit the category of players who prefer to play behind a main striker.
Hughes revealed yesterday that Vigurs’ arrival had not shut the door on him signing another frontman. He has brought in former Hull, Bristol City and Welling United striker Toby Ayala on trial this week.
The 23-year-old turned down a new deal at Torquay United at the end of last season and is without a club.
Hughes said: “When a player of Vigurs’ quality turns up on your doorstep, you don’t ignore it. All credit to the board of directors for making that happen.
“But that doesn’t restrict us in chasing another striker.
“We’ve got a boy, Toby Ajala, in on trial from Torquay, and what we’re looking for is someone who makes defenders take a step back, because they’re strong and quick. It will give us room to play. A lot of what we’re doing is in front of teams. We need to be more cutting and dynamic in the final third.
“Toby’s an out-and-out striker and looked sharp yesterday morning. He came and watched the Partick Thistle game and, hopefully, he might be the one.
“If not, we need to keep looking. We’re exhausting all our contacts and hoping someone might do us a favour.”
Hughes believes the examples of Billy Mckay and Marley Watkins in moving to English football should inspire potential targets.
He added: “It’s a fantastic platform for someone to excel. Marley got to Barnsley and Billy got to Wigan – we’re prepared to give players that opportunity. I don’t mind them using us, so long as we get the best out of them. Even those outwith our financial restraints, we’ll still give them the platform. Come in, do the goods and, if anyone fancies you, away you go.
“But we’re all chasing the same players up here it seems. I don’t know if that’s agents putting clubs on to the same players, but you hear things on the grapevine.
“I just feel our boys need a hand and we need that pace and power up front.”