NADIR CIFTCI has joined Celtic at a time when his reputation as a talented player with a seriously flawed temperament is about to come under close scrutiny.
Unsurprisingly, his forthcoming Hampden disciplinary hearing into the allegation he sank his teeth into Jim McAlister’s leg during the Dundee derby on the final day of last season was not a topic his new club wished to be discussed as the Turkish striker was presented to the media yesterday afternoon.
“We will see what happens and then speak about it later on,” was as much as Ciftci was allowed to say about the SFA tribunal on 20 July which could land him a lengthy domestic suspension if he is found guilty of the excessive misconduct charge.
It remains to be seen how disruptive that proves to Ciftci’s ability to make a positive early impression as a Celtic player.
But having signed a four-year contract after completing his £1.5 million move from Dundee United, he is fully intent on forging a longer-term status as a successful performer for the Scottish champions.
To that end, Ciftci has willingly taken on a shirt number with the greatest possible resonance at Celtic. He will wear the No 7 on his back, just as he did at United, and is fully aware of what that digit means to the fans of his new employers.
Jackie McNamara was almost like a second dad to me. He looked after meNadir Ciftci
Forever linked with Jimmy Johnstone, Celtic’s greatest ever player, it more recently adorned the skills and goals of Henrik Larsson. Since the great Swede’s departure just over a decade ago, it has been inherited with varying combinations of success and mediocrity by Juninho, Maciej Zurawski, Scott McDonald, Robbie Keane, Freddie Ljungberg and Nicolas ‘Miku’ Fedor.
For the past two seasons, it has been vacant but Ciftci is ready to embrace the challenge of filling the shirt productively.
“It’s a famous number here and one I’ve worn before,” he said. “I know what it means at this club and it’s my favourite number. I wouldn’t say it’s my lucky number, but it’s a number I like.
“I’m delighted to have it. It’s a big number to live up to, because I know the players who have worn it before me. It’s an honour for me to play with that number, just as it was an honour for them to wear it.”
Ciftci had to exercise patience over his move to Celtic as United rejected two bids for him before accepting the third. In between times, he turned down a move to Wigan Athletic who had met United’s valuation.
“I feel a big relief and I feel happy to be here,” he added. “I’m looking forward to being a Celtic player.
“It was nice to have interest from other clubs. That says I am doing well. The offer was there [from Wigan] and I decided to say no to it. There was interest from Celtic, I listened to it and I said yes because I know how big a club Celtic is. Everyone around the world knows how big a club it is and I wanted to take that opportunity.
“It’s a dream for me. This is what you live for as a footballer. You want to go out there and play your game and get a big move. It’s a big club here and this is something I have dreamt about since I was a kid. I had a beautiful two years at Dundee United and I owe them a lot. Everyone connected with that club helped me become the player that I am today but now I want to take my career to the next level at this club.”
Ciftci is not short on expert advice on what is required to succeed at Celtic. Both his agent, Pierre van Hooijdonk, and manager at United, Jackie McNamara, enjoyed successful spells at the club during their playing careers.
“Pierre has told me all about what a big club this is but I already knew that even before I came to Scotland,” said Ciftci. “I’ve played against them for the past two years so I know they are big and I will know more about how big a club it is when I play for them.
“Jackie just told me to work hard. He knows me very well after working with me every day for two years. He knows me inside out and he said to just do the things I am good at and show it on the pitch.
“I’ve learned a lot from him. It was like a family at United and Jackie was almost like a second dad to me. He looked after me very well and every single day he worked with me to try and get me better, which he did.”
Ciftci feels that focus on personal improvement will be maintained under his new manager Ronny Deila who has already made a positive impression on him.
“He [Deila] wanted me a lot and that meant a lot to me,” added Ciftci. “You want a manager who believes in you and who trusts you and I felt that when I spoke to him. He’s a very calm man who knows what he is doing and I look forward to working with him. He knows what I am good at and what I need to get better at and I’m ready to work hard to do that.
“I want to develop myself as a player as much as I can. I want to score as many goals as I can and help the team. I want to help the team win as many trophies as we can.
“I would love to have won a trophy with United but although we got to two cup finals in my two seasons there, it didn’t happen. Hopefully with Celtic I can get to touch a cup and hold it up in the air.”
Ciftci could make his first appearance in Celtic colours at St Mirren Park tonight when Deila’s men face Real Sociedad in their final pre-season friendly in preparation for next Wednesday’s opening Champions League qualifier against Icelandic side Stjarnan.
“I am ready and I feel fit,” said Ciftci. “I have been training with Dundee United for a week so I feel completely fit and I am ready to play for Celtic anytime.
“When you are a kid you dream of reaching the highest level and the biggest stages and the biggest stage is the Champions League. It would be a dream come true to do that while playing for a big club like Celtic.
“It would be something very big for me. It was a dream for me ever since I was young and now I have the chance to get there, so I am very happy.”
The settling-in process at Celtic for Ciftci will he aided considerably by the presence of his former United team-mates Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong who both made the move to Glasgow during the winter transfer window.
“I’ve seen them both today at training already,” he smiled. “It’s good to be with them again and I know them very well for the past couple of years. So, yes, it does feel like a home from home already.”