Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers hails waif Ryan Christie for bulking up
Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers hails waif Ryan Christie who bulked up to take a huge step with show against Hearts
- Ryan Christie weighed just 64kg when Brendan Rodgers first arrived in 2016
- The youngster was put on a tailored physical programme to improve his strength
- His X-Factor moment came with a goal in the cup tie against Hearts last weekend
Three years since he joined Celtic, Ryan Christie finally looks like muscling his way into the Parkhead first team.
A waif of 64 kilos when Brendan Rodgers first arrived two years ago, a tailored physical programme has seen the midfielder cut a fuller figure around Lennoxtown these days.
Yet physicality was only half the battle. Rodgers felt Christie needed an X-Factor moment; a game where he stepped blinking from the shadows to announce himself as a Celtic player.
Celtic coasted into the final of the Betfred Cup thanks to a 3-0 victory over Hearts
Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final win over Hearts, when the 23-year-old won a penalty and scored a screamer, might be the breakthrough Ronny Deila anticipated when he paid Inverness Caley Thistle £500,000 for the player’s services.
‘It was a big step for Ryan at the weekend,’ said Rodgers yesterday.
‘When I came in, I had a boy of 64 kilos, who played as a striker against Motherwell, and I felt: “Okay, here’s a talent, but is he going to play regularly for me?”
‘I didn’t think he was, but he wasn’t 17 or 18. He was 20, 21, so what would benefit him when it comes to thinking medium and longer term?
‘He would benefit from playing games and feeling the pressure week-in, week-out, because coming from Inverness to Celtic is a big jump.
‘Some players cope straight away when they come in as a 17-year-old.
‘Raheem Sterling’s maturation level at that age was an example of a kid who was physically strong. There are some players who mature a bit later.’
There are players who flounder at Celtic and Rangers, rotting on the sidelines as their career slips away. An 18-month loan spell at Aberdeen kept Christie’s competitive edge sharp and honed.
Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers hailed the young star for his commitment to bulking up
‘I felt that with Ryan and his body type he needed that,’ explained Rodgers.
‘We were lucky to send him to a club where he would be under pressure, but still get regular game time.
‘I had a conversation with Derek (McInnes) and that’s what we looked at.
‘Ryan went away and had 18 months playing. He played well and still had to develop and grow, but at least he was feeling pressure.
‘Within that period, with the programme we had given him, he went from 64 kilos to 74. That was ten kilos of muscle there, but he can carry that.
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‘That helps you with your physicality in the game, it helps him to press the game, it increases his running strength and his power as well as his football ability.
‘But what he probably needed was a big moment in an important game.
‘He’s had those at Aberdeen as well in big games – but Sunday can be a real spark for his confidence.
‘Now you see a boy at 23 who I feel is ready now to really participate. Now it’s about him and what he does on the pitch.
‘It was about taking his talent and bringing it to fruition and could he take the opportunity?’
A second-half replacement for Olivier Ntcham last Sunday, he most certainly did.
But the path to the Celtic first team remains strewn with obstacles for Christie.
Callum McGregor and Tom Rogic are the most obvious road blocks. Asked about Christie’s best position yesterday, Rodgers believes his long-term future lies in an attacking midfield role.
‘He’s not a one-against-one, he’s not quick enough to go around the outside as it’s more about the inside and he has an eye for goal.
‘You saw at the weekend that he wants to score. He played up there in an attacking formation and in that eight role, but he’s a tactical player. I like to have as many goalscoring threats in my team as possible and he can do that.’
The return of Scott Sinclair’s confidence and form against Hearts was almost as unexpected as Christie’s own spectacular cameo from the bench.
‘Every player is a confidence player,’ added the Parkhead boss.
Christie looked a physical match for the Hearts players during the match at Murrayfield
‘When Scott came into the game he looked different class but he’s a big-game player. He’s played in enough big games and shown up well.
‘As soon as he came on he got at his man and took off from there. He looked a lot more like himself and it was great to see.’
The same might be said of Celtic as a team.
Beat Jim McIntyre’s Dundee at Dens Park tonight and the champions will record their fourth straight league win – a feat which proved beyond them last season.
‘The players deserve a huge amount of credit because of the expectation going into Sunday’s game,’ added Rodgers. ‘We all try to win but there was a narrative that it was a great chance for Hearts as they were playing in Edinburgh.
‘To play at that level was very good.
‘There are not many teams who win titles and trophies if their spirit is not good and, for us, these players have continuously done that.
‘So, despite a lot of noise, inside the spirit is very strong. It’s my job as a leader to ensure that’s how it stays.
Christie pictured in training with the Celtic squad on Tuesday morning ahead of their next tie
‘The season is a process. We made a brilliant, incredible start in our first year, in terms of come flying out of the blocks.
‘Last year, okay, was never going to be as good, of course. This year, a bit slower.
‘We didn’t qualify for the Champions League. But it happens and you find a way.
‘What’s key is not to get frustrated. The players know I have a big belief in them and it was only a matter of time before it came good.’
A run of 13 games in the eight weeks leading up to Christmas begins and ends with games against a struggling Dundee team.
Craig Gordon returns to goal after missing the win over Hearts, while Dedryck Boyata returns from suspension.
Nevertheless, injuries remain a feature of the Lennoxtown landscape. Leigh Griffiths, Jozo Simunovic and Youssouf Mulumbu are among the players unavailable for tonight’s trip to Tayside.
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