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The executioner in Ciftci

Dundee United's second Scottish Cup triumph in four years would be a feat to be savoured in its own right, but it would also be a means to an end.

Nadir Ciftci believes his Dundee United side could make waves in the Europa League next season should they qualify by beating St JohnstonePhotograph: SNS
Nadir Ciftci believes his Dundee United side could make waves in the Europa League next season should they qualify by beating St JohnstonePhotograph: SNS

For Nadir Ciftci, equally important as the silverware and the place in history on offer, is the fact that victory against St Johnstone at Celtic Park would send Jackie McNamara's exciting young team into European football next season.

It is typical of the headstrong young Turk that he confidently states United would prosper in the Europa League, as they play "differently" from most other Scottish teams. Not to mention the fact that young players such as Ryan Gauld and John Souttar would have the chance to prove they are as good as many coming through on the Continent.

"We wanted to finish second which I thought we deserved but we just didn't get enough points," said Ciftci, part of the United team who will face Celtic at the cup final venue today. "Now we just want to win the cup and get into Europe that way. I think the way we play football would suit us if we get into Europe - it is so different to the way some other teams in Scotland do it. If we can take that into Europe it can only be good. I just hope we can get there - get a nice team in the draw (the Scottish Cup winners will enter at the second of three qualifying stages) - and progress as far as we can.

"I've been down in England and obviously the Premiership has some of the best young players in the world," he added. "But the way our young players have played throughout the season, I think they've showed everyone that they could easily play there as well. They are definitely as good as some of the younger players anywhere else."

For the record, if they weren't already secure in next season's Champions League, Real Madrid would be Ciftci's dream draw, but then the Turk has always set his sights high. He spent his childhood idolising La Liga superstars Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho and even now, at the ripe old age of 22, watches compilations of their skills on YouTube before attempting to replicate them in training.

Saturday will be the first cup final of Ciftci's career but during his time south of the border, he did get a couple of close looks at the English equivalent, as well as seeing one of his aforementioned heroes in the flesh. On two visits to Wembley for the showpiece of the English game, whilst a reserve player at Portsmouth, Ciftci watched from the stands as Harry Redknapp's side beat Cardiff City in 2008 then lost narrowly to Chelsea in 2011. In between times, he had the privilege of watching Ronaldinho play - and score - for AC Milan at Fratton Park in the Europa League.

"It was a great feeling watching the final when we won it that day but this is my first cup final when I'll actually be involved," he said. "I tried to enjoy those days as much as possible, because as a young kid you just try and savour it. But obviously I hope this experience is better."

Ciftci was only 15 when he pitched up on the south coast of England, following a spell at Den Haag, in a seemingly unique career path currently plotted by his agent Pierre van Hooijdonk, who scored a famous winner for Celtic in the 1995 Scottish Cup final against Airdrie. "Pierre hasn't said anything about his goal in the final but I know what he achieved in the cup and the league," said Ciftci. "He doesn't have to tell me."

Ciftci is a flamboyant young man in a hurry - though his scheduled trial for speeding was put back until after the cup final. However, the good news for United fans is that the player - who has two years remaining on his deal but has been linked with bigger clubs, including Celtic - is, perhaps unlike his agent during his playing days, in no hurry to agitate for a move.

"It is really nice that people talk about me and say good things," said Ciftci. "It shows I've done something right. Of course, at some point you look forward to the big stage down south or abroad but I don't know when or what that might be. But at the moment I'm not thinking about anything else."

Having won just once against St Johnstone this season, albeit by a 4-0 scoreline, there have been suggestions that Jackie McNamara's United will leave teenagers Gauld and Souttar on the bench, but such a conclusion isn't exactly borne out by precedent. Both were given the nod in the semi-final win over Rangers at Ibrox and McNamara believes that cup final day isn't the time to sacrifice principles that have served you well.

"Gauldy is 18 and he has played 50 games now, including two semi finals in two years," said McNamara. "We have scored 87 goals this season so when we are on it we are a good side to watch. But when things don't work, the first thing people want you to do is play percentage football and change our philosophy which is something we won't do."

It isn't all about youth: John Rankin, at the age of 30, will feature in his first major final, while it is a first major final for McNamara as manager, after three wins as a player, most notably in 2001, when he replaced the injured Lubo Moravcik after 18 minutes and scored the opener in a 3-0 win over Hibernian. "I thought it was a tactical change myself," joked the United manager. "Lubo was struggling with his ability so they put me on."

Twenty years after Ivan Golac masterminded a United Scottish Cup win, another flamboyant foreigner could be the headline act. "If I score the winner in the final," deadpans Ciftci, in reference to his infamous celebration at Ibrox when he raised his arms aloft before rolling the ball into an empty net, "then I will definitely remember to score first and then celebrate!"

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