The abiding memory of United’s semi-final win over Rangers at Ibrox last month was the 22-year-old Turkish striker celebrating with the United fans after he netted the clinching goal in the 3-1 win, following a mistake by goalkeeper Steve Simonsen. It was one of his 17 goals this season for United after signing last summer and it underlined how crucial he is to his team’s chances of taking the trophy back to Tannadice for the second time in four years.
However, Ciftci played down his semi-final goal and insisted that he is not too bothered how the showpiece final between two closely-matched rivals is won. “Until I watched the highlights I didn’t realise I was celebrating before I scored,” he said. “After I scored I don’t know what was going on in my head. The only thing I knew was that we were through in the cup and I was really happy. I hope we win the final. It’s something special for any player to score in a game like this but the main thing is to win the cup. It doesn’t mean a lot for me being the main goalscorer. If it wasn’t for my team-mates, I wouldn’t be in this position. Nobody in the squad is that greedy, we pass to each other and I think that’s why goals are shared around the team.”
After taking around 13,000 fans to Ibrox for the last-four tie, United can expect to be backed by close to 30,000 at Celtic Park, the biggest travelling support for the club in its history. Ciftci is hoping to give those fans a happy journey back to Tayside. He said: “I saw them in the semi-final and I’ve heard how many tickets we’ve sold for the final. I hope we can give them something to celebrate at the end of the season.”
St Johnstone make their first Scottish Cup final appearance on Saturday as they aim to win the first major trophy in their 130-year history. Standing in Ciftci’s way today is goalkeeper Alan Mannus, who is determined to be a member of the first Saints team to ever lift the trophy – and also to repay manager Tommy Wright.
Mannus has worked with Wright at every club he has played for, along with the Northern Ireland squad, and feels he would not even be in Scotland enjoying such a successful career were it not for his advice and training.
Having seen Wright shape his life and career, Mannus knew he would do a good job as Saints manager when he stepped up last summer, and the cup final is the culmination of an incredible debut campaign.
Mannus said: “He was my goalkeeper coach when I was about 19 at Linfield. He was with me for a couple of years and then Tommy moved on elsewhere. Eventually I ended up moving to Shamrock Rovers where Tommy was goalkeeper coach, which was one of the main reasons I wanted to go there, to work with him again. Tommy moved on from there after a couple of months and I ended up coming over here. And within two or three months, he came over as assistant to Steve Lomas. So we can’t seem to get away from each other.
“He has been really influential for me. I probably wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for him.”
He added: “Winning the cup would be massive for me. I was lucky to have played in Irish Cup finals back home and win them with Linfield, and to play in a cup final with Shamrock Rovers as well. I will always remember that and hopefully I will play in the final on Saturday and remember that one.
“To be involved in a cup final is brilliant.”