Don't be misled by the Roy Keane designer stubble. Gary Lineker is the footballer Malcolm Christie immediately reminds you of, with his Midlands accent and gentle-eyed good looks. Now all he has to do is start knocking in the goals with Lineker's regularity and they will be more than happy at Middlesbrough. Delirious, in fact.
Boro's fans yearn for a 20-goal man. A 10-goal one would do fine, since the club are in familiar territory, off to a poor start because they aren't scoring: seven goals so far in nine Premiership games. Perhaps this afternoon's visit to White Hart Lane will prove the watershed; Middlesbrough potted eight goals against Tottenham Hotspur last season, three away and five at home.
Christie had arrived at the Riverside from Derby County in time to claim one of those five. Another one today would be more than acceptable, two might kick- start the engine of Steve McClaren's new-model Boro. The manager's frustration is clear at the missing segment of his grand design for the club: "Everything is in place but we aren't scoring goals. We have to be more ruthless".
Christie agrees. "The team have quality and we could do very well. The chances are being created but are just not going in at the moment. If we start converting we are going to win a lot of games. It is just a matter of keeping going.
"The performances have improved a great deal since the start of the season, though the results in our last two games didn't go our way. We played very well against Chelsea but didn't get anything, the same against Newcastle. But the fans can see there has been an improvement, so we have to take that to Tottenham. We have struggled away from home, but we went to Southampton where no one gave us a chance and managed to come away with a win."
That win was courtesy of a Christie goal. Though he has started, or come on, in all but one of Middlesbrough's matches, his only other score was the one which put Second Division Brighton out of the Carling Cup. "It has not gone as well as I would perhaps have liked this season. I have been pleased with the way I am playing, but any striker is judged on the amount of goals he scores, and if I'm not doing the business I could be out, because we have a lot of centre-forwards here."
Chris Riggott, who went to Middlesbrough in a joint £3m deal from Derby last January, considers Christie a selfless sort, and the 24-year-old accepts that comment. "Maybe I should be a little more selfish around the area. Right now, when the chances arise, I tend to pass the ball. But the top strikers excel in being selfish around the box. That's something I have to improve on, just shoot on sight."
What worked well for him at Derby were the passing skills of Georgi Kinkladze allied to his speed. It added up to 30 goals in three-and-a-half seasons, not Lineker levels perhaps but enough to have Middlesbrough's starving faithful salivating. With Juninho, Boro's nearest to Kinkladze as a creator, struggling to command a place, Christie is looking to the wings and the proven genius of loan signings Gaizka Mendieta and Boudewijn Zenden to provide the crosses for him to latch on to.
The modest Christie is still coming to terms with feelings of awe at playing alongside such as Mendieta. "I don't think I'll ever lose that," he admitted. "I appreciate so much getting to play with some of the best in Europe and going to the best stadiums. For someone who has come up the way I have, I will never forget things like that. Perhaps that's what makes me a bit different from others, I try to keep my feet on the ground."
Born in Stamford, Christie was close to not even becoming a professional. In his early teens he was a huge fan of Manchester United, and he decided to join the club's local supporters' branch and go to watch them regularly rather than play football on Saturdays. "But when I told my dad what I wanted to do he convinced me it was more important I concentrated on my football. I think I can safely say it worked out for the best," he smiled.
Christie's first-ever visit to Old Trafford was as a Derby player, though he sat on the bench throughout. "It gave me the chance to have a good look round, soak in the atmosphere." Since then he has scored three times against his heroes. He also tended to hit Middlesbrough's net regularly. Perhaps this, added to the fact that McClaren had worked briefly with him as Derby's assistant manager, was what helped to seal the move to the North-east.
A troublesome groin affected him towards the end of last season, when he managed four goals in 12 games for Boro, and he underwent two operations, for hernia and tonsils, within four days of the season's close. The groin problem was the first injury he had suffered in a career which began at Nuneaton Borough before Jim Smith signed him for Derby in 1998 as an 18-year-old.
By then, Christie had already taken precautions against not making it as a footballer. A three-year college course earned him a diploma in business and finance, and to fund himself he worked weekends and nights as a shelf stacker at a Stamford supermarket. "I will never forget those days because they made me the person I am now," he said. "And if I have to go back to that in a few years, so be it."Reuse content