Robbie Muirhead’s debt to mentor Nadir Ciftci

Robbie Muirhead is keen to kick on at Dundee United six months after his transfer from Kilmarnock. Picture: SNS
Robbie Muirhead is keen to kick on at Dundee United six months after his transfer from Kilmarnock. Picture: SNS
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When one fans’ favourite departs the scene, the question arising is invariably who will assume the mantle?

That’s what Robbie Muirhead, the Dundee United striker, intends to do as he endeavours to prove a more than adequate replacement for Nadir Ciftci in the season ahead.

He will be a loss but it’s up to someone else to come in and take his place

Muirhead admits Ciftci acted as a mentor to him when he first arrived at Tannadice back in February but, as so often is the case in football, he now wants to make the Tannadice faithful forget all about their old talisman.

Ciftci clinched a £1.5 million transfer to Celtic over the summer but prior to that he took Muirhead under his wing on completion of the young forward’s move to Tayside just a few months ago.

The 19-year-old joined United from Kilmarnock in a £150,000 deal and from that point onwards Ciftci went out of his way to help the Scotland under-19 striker find his feet by offering him advice on how best to fulfil his undoubted potential.

Muirhead has, for that reason, every respect for the Turkish player and is unlikely to ever forget the manner in which he smoothed his settling-in process on Tayside.

But with the new season about to get under way in today’s televised home match with north-east rivals Aberdeen at Tannadice, Muirhead’s mission is clearly to fill the void left by his departure.

“Nadir was good with me,” said Muirhead ahead of this afternoon’s visit of Derek McInnes’s side to Tayside. “He spoke to me a lot and we worked a lot together in training.

“He always used to tell me that as a striker if you get a chance to shoot you should always take it. That’s something I like doing anyway and that’s what I will keep doing.

“He was a really good player and it was sad to see him go. He will be a loss but it’s up to someone else to come in and take his place. I am confident I can do that and play that role in the team. I am a striker and I was brought here to put the ball in the back of the net. So if the manager gives me a chance this season I’ll be giving everything to take his place.”

Muirhead was initially content to bide his time when he first joined Jackie McNamara’s men six months ago having earlier attracted the attention of Celtic as well as West Bromwich Albion.

But the former Kilmarnock striker is now fully focused on hitting the ground running and becoming a key player for the Tayside club.

“My aim for this season is to get into the team and stay there,” stated Muirhead. “I had to be patient when I first came here because I moved midway through the season.

“It was a new club and new team-mates so it takes time to settle in and get used to everyone. But that’s six months now and I’m through the fitting-in period. I know all the lads now and I know what the manager is looking for.

“So I just want to kick on now and become a regular in the team.”

United’s season took a drastic turn for the worse after New Year when they were still in contention for all three major domestic honours, only for results to dip considerably, which coincided with the joint sale of Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong to Celtic. They eventually missed out on a place in Europe by finishing fifth so Muirhead maintains sealing a return to the continental stage is among their chief priorities this time round.

“This season we want to get into Europe,” he confirmed. “Last season we were up there until the last few weeks of the season so we have to be more consistent this time round.

“Last season the team lost in the [League] Cup final so we’d love to get back to another one. But the main thing at the moment is getting off to a good start against Aberdeen and take it from there.”

Muirhead had extra cause for celebration earlier this week when he discovered he will be competing with household names such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for UEFA’s goal of the season award.

The modest striker, from Irvine in Ayrshire, netted a memorable strike in the Scotland Under-19 side’s draw with Norway last October so now he’ll fight it out with the stars from Barcelona and Real Madrid for the prestigious prize which has left him quite overwhelmed.

“I didn’t know a thing about the award until I came in from training and saw my phone,” conceded Muirhead. “It had been tweeted by the SFA so I was quite shocked when I saw it. It’s a nice thing to be nominated for – especially since I haven’t scored a goal for a while.

“There is an awards ceremony in Monaco for the top three so it would be great to get through to that stage.

“But it’s just totally surreal to be mentioned in the same breath as Ronaldo and Messi – that’s the last thing you expect.

“It’s an honour to be nominated among great names like that.”