History is full of men who wore the honorific “great”. Schools teach students stories of their valour, their brilliance, their genius for exploiting events and their fellow men to their advantage. The word itself is a verdict conveyed on them in their own time, and then by posterity. One of the greatest of them all was Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, the renowned Roman general, politician, three times consul and member of the First Triumvate.
History records that he was named Pompey The Great after his services to the state in the civil war against Sulla; actually, he had been surrounded by followers calling him that for years. The title was assumed before it was awarded. That he lived up to it is proof of what others saw in him from an early time. Not everyone can scale those kind of heights.
I was calling our young prodigy from Inverness The Great Ryan Christie since before we signed him. I believed we were looking at one of the most exciting young footballers on the island and I believed it would have been an act of supreme folly to allow him to slip through our fingers; when we signed him I was over the moon. I thought we’d got a superstar.
It seemed a matter of time before he earned the title.
Was I wrong about Ryan Christie? Yes, and no. I say no because he’s not exactly finished. He’s 23 and there is time aplenty to become the footballer I thought we were getting. The news today that he will not be offered a new deal with the club is heart-breaking in many ways, but it is not entirely unexpected either. He has played 15 times under the manager and I cannot, I am sad to say, recall a single standout moment in that time.
What’s worse is that the manager, who has seen him far more times than we have, hasn’t been dreadfully impressed either. Christie has never grabbed this chance by the throat, and that’s a tragedy for him personally and for us as a club because there is simply no doubt that he has all the skills to be an absolute star.
So what happened here?
Christie is the proof that there’s more to success in this sport than simply having skill. Football is a relentlessly unforgiving business and painfully free of sentiment and the simple truth is that some people in it, for all their ability, are not cut out for life at a club such as ours.
They wilt under the pressure of it, and you never know who will rise to that and who won’t. It was ever the danger had we gone out and signed John McGinn, and Christie is a vastly better technical footballer than he is. Some, like Ajer, thrive. Others, like Scott Allan, fold.
Look at the number of players who have graduated out of our youth academy and gone on to good careers elsewhere. It’s no coincidence that those who’ve gotten to the first team and stayed there are mentally tough as well as talented … that mental strength is the crucial component in success at a club like Celtic.
Is that where Ryan comes up short?
We might never know, because he looks certain to be shipped out in this window with Jack Ross’ Sunderland the most likely destination. Once upon a time his destination might have been Easter Road; a door that their own chairman has firmly closed.
I think he would have thrived there under Neil Lennon, but Ross is another talented boss who knows what he’s getting. It might be just the place for the kid to find himself again.
I will regret it when he goes because I still think there’s something there, but he is doing himself no good hanging onto the Celtic dream and it does us no good to have him on the wage bill if he is not going to get the opportunities he will elsewhere. More than anything, it will end the saga of waiting for this fantastically gifted player to show us what he’s got … those at the club have concluded, probably painfully, that it’s not going to happen.
If he ever earns the honorific I will be glad for him, but I will try not to indulge in regrets or what-might-have-been thinking. This is the upper atmosphere, and some people just cannot live at this altitude.