NADIR Ciftci has never been accused of lacking self-belief and, less than a fortnight into his Celtic career, he is willing to solve his new club’s penalty crisis.
Indeed, he would happily accept the responsibility of taking one in the crucial Champions League qualifier against Stjarnan in Iceland on Wednesday.
Leigh Griffiths could have made the Atlantic crossing a formality had he scored from the spot towards the end of last week’s 2-0 victory at Parkhead. Instead, after he had wrestled the ball away from Stefan Johansen, the clearly distracted striker, who also missed from the spot during a 1-1 draw with Dundee United in March, saw his shot saved by Gunnar Nielsen, whose heroics single-handedly kept alive his side’s hopes of an upset in Iceland.
Regular penalty taker Kris Commons is currently sidelined with a broken toe and James Forrest failed from 12 yards in last season’s League Cup final against Dundee United. Ciftci, who successfully converted eight spot-kicks during his two seasons with Dundee United, is prepared to shoulder that burden, either in regulation time or, if the worst comes to the worst, during a shoot-out at the Samsungvollur.
“I am only just here with the team,” said the 23-year-old. “If the manager asks me to take one, I will definitely do it. I like to hit the penalties.
“But I am not going through those kind of things [in my mind]: I need to settle in here. I know Leigh missed in the first game but it doesn’t matter because he’s a good player, a confident lad, and there are lots of players who can hit a penalty. It’s not all about me so we will see what happens.”
If the manager asks me to take one, I will definitely do itNadir Ciftci
Celtic began pre-season training more than a fortnight before United in order to prepare for their meeting with Stjarnan and, consequently, the Turk, signed from the Tayside club for £1.5 million just ten days ago, is not yet up to speed.
However, he intends to play his way into peak condition.
“Fitness-wise I am all right and, hopefully, I get some more games to get there,” he said. “I wasn’t surprised to start against Stjarnan - you always have to be ready and I was.
“This is the stage I want to play at every week. With these fans behind you, it gives a different buzz and gives you more confidence.
“You feel how excited the fans get when you go forward so it’s completely different for me to come here and play for Celtic than it was with the away team.”
Following Celtic’s disappointments in the qualifying stage last year, the tiny band of travelling fans could be forgiven for watching through their fingers on Wednesday evening but Ciftci insists that there is no need to be nervous.
“We’re looking forward to the second leg,” he said. “You don’t know in football so we have to take it seriously and respect the other team but, with our quality, I will always be confident in this team going anywhere.
“It’s not easy if they park the bus like that and you have to break them. We had a few complete chances in the first half and didn’t hit the back of the net.
“You knew it was going to come and, after Dedryck [Boyata]’s goal, it was always going to be more.
“It could’ve been better. We could’ve had loads of goals. It’s enough for us, though. If the other team want to go through then they will have to come out over there.
“Hopefully, we can hit them and make something good happen again.”
Celtic’s supporters have already formed a mutual admiration society with Ciftci and he clearly thrives on the adulation.
“It would be wonderful if these fantastic fans can stand behind me and I can give them something brilliant in the seasons I am here,” he said.
“That would be great. It makes me proud that there are kids with my name on their jersey. It makes me happy.”
The prospect of playing at Parkhead in the group stage of the Champions League convinced Ciftci to move to Glasgow and he is hoping to achieve that ambition this season. He has been craving to experience such an occasion since his representative, Pierre van Hooijdonk, took him to Celtic Park to see Neil Lennon’s team lose 3-0 to AC Milan in November, 2013.
“I have been here for a big European night,” he said. “I know what it means for the fans. I only dream about things like that.
“Hopefully, we can get through and I can make that dream come true. I was here with my agent for that game against Milan when Mario Balotelli scored.
“I know how big those nights are for Celtic. I loved it: an atmosphere like that is something amazing.”
First, though, Stjarnan must be subdued. If confidence counts for anything, though (and it should), then Celtic are already in the next round.