Ryan Christie was riding the crest of a wave in the summer of 2014, but he still hadn’t quite figured his manager out.
Back then, the Scotland team’s newest hero was a teenager that had just broken into the Caley Thistle first team under John Hughes.
His whirlwind debut campaign brought three goals and an appearance as a substitute in the Highlanders’ League Cup final loss to Aberdeen.
It was an unexpectedly good season for Christie, who didn’t feel anywhere close to the first team under previous manager Terry Butcher.
Butcher had lifted Inverness to new heights, clinching the club’s first top-six finish in the Premiership before leaving for a doomed half-season with Hibs.
While his departure at the time prompted plenty of anxiety among Caley Thistle supporters, hindsight shows that it helped unleash the club’s finest export.
When Hughes took over the reins in November 2013, he immediately brought Christie into the first-team picture and the 18-year-old made his debut a month later.
Seven years on, Christie has become a mainstay of a successful Celtic team and etched his name into the national team’s folklore with his goal against Serbia last night.
Hughes’s decision to instantly elevate him into his squad appears a very shrewd one indeed.
“It was very hard under Terry because his team played a certain way and had so much success, so he didn’t need to turn to youth,” Christie said.
“But when John Hughes came in, he watched me playing in the under-20s and put me straight in.
“I never looked back after that.”
Christie’s rise from the ICT youth ranks to national team hero has caught many by surprise, but his talent was talked about in Inverness long before he even reached the first team.
Not least because of his dad, Charlie Christie, a Caley Thistle legend in his own right.
He had become accustomed to being known as “Charlie’s boy” around the club and among fans, but it wasn’t long before he started carving out a name for himself.
Hughes was a big fan of Christie’s right from the start but while he knew had the technical ability to make a big impression, he needed to know if he had the character.
Christie said: “The manager would always pull me in and ask me strange questions.
“One time I remember him asking me about Ryan Gauld, who was lighting up the league at the time.
“He said ‘what’s the difference between you and him?’. I told him we were similar types of player but I wasn’t sure what to say.
“The manager said: ‘you’re right, the difference is he’s playing all the time and you’re not. We need to change that.
“I didn’t really process it at the time, I just thought it was weird.”
Like every passionate Scottish football fan, John Hughes was glued to his TV last night as the men’s national team made history.
But it wasn’t just Christie’s goal that has turned him into an instant national hero.
His emotional post-match interview had the nation tearing up, as he displayed the kind of passion professional footballers are so often accused of lacking.
"I hope everyone back home is having a party tonight!" 🥳
Just look how much it means to Ryan Christie! 🥺pic.twitter.com/pr13ClPSwl
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) November 12, 2020
“When I get my hands on him, I’m gonna kill him,” Hughes laughed. “I had a tear in my eye.
“But that’s the kind of guy he is.”
The character tests that Hughes used to give his young prospect were not just limited to their chats.
On the training ground every day he was provoking him, trying to see what he was made of.
Hughes said: “On the training pitch, we’d never give him a free kick. In the small-sided games, he’d get fouled and I’d just laugh.
“We were teaching him to stand up to it and get stuck in. And that’s what he did.
“He was a manager’s dream, there was no ego to him.
“I’m just proud to have played a small part in his development. I got lucky, his dad Charlie and all his youth coaches need to take the credit.”