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Cyrus Christie is 'not the greatest defender' but insists he's 'learning'

The 23-year-old spoke of his frustration at being left in “two-v-one” situations during the Belarus match.

Cyrus Christie has won five Ireland caps.
Cyrus Christie has won five Ireland caps.
Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images

IRELAND’S CYRUS CHRISTIE has admitted he’s “not the greatest defender” but feels he has improved markedly in recent times and the attacking full-back is continually “learning” about the game.

Derby’s Young Player of the Year, who has won five Ireland caps since making his debut against USA in a November 2014 friendly, impressed as Seamus Coleman’s deputy during the qualifying campaign, in the process helping the team earn clean sheets away to Gibraltar and at home against Germany.

However, Christie was less convincing in the recent Euro 2016 warm-up against Belarus. While the 23-year-old was typically impressive going forward, he seemed vulnerable defensively and admits he was partially culpable for the visitors’ second goal.

It was an uncharacteristic lapse, however, as Christie was part of a Derby side that had one of the best defensive records in the Championship.

Nevertheless, provided Everton star Seamus Coleman is fit, Christie admits that it will be a tough task getting in the side ahead of “probably the best right-back in the Premier League for last few years”.

He is a fantastic player who is getting touted around for a big price tag… Seamus is always talking to me about improving my game and what I do well, and that’s fantastic for myself.”

However, the prospect of Coleman and Christie in the same Ireland XI is not inconceivable. Christie revealed that O’Neill has spoken to him in the past about the possibility of playing left-back or right-wing, with the player explaining that he would be “more than happy to fill in” in either role if necessary.

The latter position, in particular, would not be especially unfamiliar to Christie. The Coventry-born star began his footballing life as a winger, before being converted into a full-back.

I haven’t been playing right-back for that long. Right wing is where I did start my career. I am (more) comfortable further up the pitch than defending. But when you’re that attacking, everyone seems to pick up on the defensive faults more than anything because it seems to shine through that you’re not defensively capable.

“But I haven’t been done defensively. Everyone wants to pick up on one little aspect aspect of my defensive (game), but this season, I’ve been reasonably solid.”

Of last week’s friendly in Turner’s Cross, he added: “I was isolated two-v-one a lot (against Belarus). We were playing a different kind of shape. I was doing a lot of work up and down (the flanks). For the second goal, I probably could have done better. I’ll hold my hands up to that. But Martin O’Neill was complimentary to me. He came over to me after the game and said I’d done well.

“I am always learning defensively. I’m not going to say I’m the greatest defender, because I’m not. But for me, it is about learning, and each year and each game I’m learning a lot. This season, I feel I’ve come out on top against my wingers and have proved to a lot of people that I can defend.

“That always is going to be a question mark over my head because of my attacking capabilities, but I’m just taking it in my stride and looking to improve because first and foremost, I am a defender. People want me to defend first, but the way the modern game’s changing, you have to be able to do both.”

Christie also said that “a few good coaches” had aided his development, and when asked to pinpoint what specifically needed to be improved upon, the youngster said “consistency” and “concentration” were key to his development.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Wolverhampton Wanderers v Derby County - Molineux Stadium Cyrus Christie has made 45 appearances in all competitions for Derby County this season. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

The Derby defender explained how his international boss had picked up on “aspects of what he could do better” using video clips to highlight these flaws.

The former Coventry City player also praised the man-management skills of O’Neill among others.

“Martin O’Neill and Steve Guppy and Roy (Keane) are also great at complimenting people, and making you feel like a good player, and picking up on what you do well.”

In addition, also speaking at today’s press conference, Christie’s Derby and Ireland teammate Richard Keogh was similarly fulsome in his praise of O’Neill: “The gaffer is a fantastic man. He’s been great for me. I really feel like he’s helped me take my game to another level

He’s very good at knowing what your strengths are, knowing what your weaknesses are, knowing what makes you tick as a person. It’s quite hard to find for certain managers. Man management is a real skill and an art, and the gaffer’s really good at it. He makes you feel 10-feet tall before you go out for a game and any player likes to feel that.

“The manager’s very good at getting the best out of certain individuals — that’s like gold dust, you can’t really buy that… Martin really has helped me and knows how to get the best out of me. We’re very lucky to have him, he’s been good for the country and good for this group.”

Meanwhile, Christie also hinted that he was somewhat unfairly maligned on account of his personality, while also acknowledging that there is room for improvement in his game.

“Because of the character I am, the laidback persona, people feel like I’m not trying when it comes to defending. I’m patient and I wait and then nick the ball. I don’t go in and smash people because that’s not my game.

“I’m part of a back four that’s conceded the least amount of goals in Derby’s history for many years. To be able to do that, you do have to be able to defend.

Maybe I do have to be a bit more aggressive… Everyone’s different in terms of the way they play and their style. For me, I just have to keep on improving and doing the good things on a more consistent basis over the 90 minutes.

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“Going into a major tournament, you have to be ready and you have to concentrate for the full 90 minutes. Like I said, I do need to improve. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take hard work and dedication… No player’s perfect, you just have to work on something and that’s what I have to do to make myself better and try to get to the top level.”

Furthermore, despite Christie’s frank self-criticism, club colleague Keogh was full of praise for his colleague.

“Cyrus has really come of age this season,” the 29-year-old centre-back said.

After a little bit of a tough period (last season), the ability and the personality shown has come through, and that’s a credit to himself.”

And as for assistant boss Roy Keane’s recent criticism of the Ireland team, Keogh said that the comments had been taken on board in a “positive” manner by the players.

“Roy has just reminded us that you can’t take your foot off the pedal in training, or in games, or in anything we do,” he said.

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Paul Fennessy

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