REPUBLIC of Ireland international and former Sky Blues defender Cyrus Christie has joined the passionate calls for the club’s Academy to be saved, so that more young footballers can follow in his footsteps and make a career in the sport.
The 23-year-old is one of the most recent success stories to come out of the Sky Blues Academy, which could be forced out of its current home at the Alan Higgs Centre when its current deal expires next summer.
Christie progressed through the Academy and into the first team where he made 117 first team appearances before earning a move to Championship side Derby County.
The attack-minded full-back has recently returned from international duty with the Republic of Ireland having been selected for their Euro 2016 journey in France, and he admits that he owes everything to the upbringing he had at his hometown club.
“I’ve been away so I haven’t really heard too much but it would be really sad if the club were to lose it’s category 2 status and the Academy as a whole,” Christie told the Observer.
“The Academy gave players like myself a chance to progress and nurture our talent so I owe it a lot.
“The people there guided us and they matched our willingness to succeed in the game. They brought us on as players and improved us and I think that is down to the way the Academy is set up and run.
“There is a fantastic setup there and there are some fantastic coaches and people within the Academy.
“The players that are coming through now are really good so it would be shame to lose it’s status.
“It really does need to be saved because there are a lot of talented players there and it’s paved the way for a lot of boys, including myself, to come through and I think that shows the standard that is going on down there.”
Current England Under-19 manager Aidy Boothroyd handed Christie his Sky Blues first team debut back in August 2010, but it was the 2011/12 season when Christie really made his mark at the Ricoh Arena.
He went on to become a first team regular under Andy Thorn and Steven Pressley alongside several Academy team mates including current Premier League hotshot Callum Wilson and Conor Thomas, and Christie feels they were all in the right place at the right time to develop their careers at Coventry.
“The first team were always willing to give the young boys a chance and at one stage it did get to a point where the club did have to rely on the youth players with everything that was going on.
“Looking back I think that was a bit of a blessing in disguise for the younger boys when that happened but we’ve gone into the first team, progressed, improved and played well for the club.
“The Academy is great and you get some clubs where they stop the development and they don’t want to throw players into the first team too early, but I think at Coventry they did get it right with a lot of the players.
“They managed to keep us humble and grounded and I think that worked in their favour.”
Christie joined the Sky Blues Academy at just seven years of age from local side London Road Lions and he played a various locations across the city before the club set up home at the Alan Higgs Centre just over ten years ago.
“I remember my first sessions there,” Christie continued. “We’d get there for around 6pm and we would play on the astro turf outside where they’d be quite a few groups.
“It was usually a Tuesday or Thursday, but sometimes we trained there on Fridays too, but it was only usually two or three times a week.
“We’d play the games on Sunday mornings but I can’t remember who my first game was against, but I probably would have been up front scoring a couple of goals.
“That would have been on the top pitches at the Alan Higgs Centre. We had quite a good team to be fair. There was a good setup and we had a good squad, so we didn’t lose many, we used to win most games.”
At the Alan Higgs Centre in Allard Way Chrities was coached by the likes of former head of the Academy Gregor Rioch and current Academy manager Richard Stevens, two coaches he feels helped shape him into the player he is today.
“Greg Rioch was very good to me in the youth team but he was quite tough on me as well,” Christie added.
“I had a few run-ins with him but it was all to benefit me and I have to thank him for that.
“I played as a striker at first and when Greg and Rich came in they thought I was more of a defender and they wanted me at centre-back and right-back.
“I eventually settled for right-back because it was more attacking. When I got to the youth team Greg actually sat me down and we spoke about where I see my career going and what position I feel would be best for me.
At the time I didn’t know because I was switching between centre-back and right-back at the time. They saw me as a right-back and it’s just gone on from there from the age of 17.
“It’s turned out really well for me. They always wanted to help us and make us better players and I think he did improve us. I think that shows in the amount of players that came through that year and got into the first team.
“He brought a lot of players through and we’ve all gone on to enjoy good careers and play a lot of games in the first team.
“That speaks for itself, the way we came through and we’re onto different pastures now but for them that will always put a smile on their face and make them feel proud of the work that they have done.
“I know that Richard is still there and Greg has moved on now but they were fantastic coaches and really did improve us not only as footballers but as men off the pitch too.”
Read more from Christie next week as he looks back on his Sky Blues career, looks ahead with Derby County and discusses turning into an international player with the Republic of Ireland.