Sunderland's elusive search for full backs has been as extensive as it has been wide. It has stretched across Europe to South and Central America and back. At times, it has seemed more like a game of chess with so many rumours advanced yet regularly falling over or being chopped down like pawns without commanding any forethought. Patience, perseverance and persistence has been called for in such a hot-and-miss scenario that has finally resulted in a real cosmopolitan Czech-mate, with the signing of Ondřej Čelůstka - a 24-year old Czech playing in Turkey with an Italian connection.
Celu (no doubt awaiting the adoption of a distinctive Makem colloquialism) has been signed on a season-long loan from Trabzonspor with an option to buy as required for non-domestic loans. At 6' 1, he is a versatile defender, who can be utilised anywhere across the backline. Though mainly a a right back, he has also played at centre half as well as left back, and provides useful cover even if he is not an initial starting choice until adapts.
Some transfer rumours during the current window have turned into real sagas. Most notorious is the 'will he, won't he' soap opera surrounding Velez Sarsfield's Gino Peruzzi and his failed medical. Still not entirely ruling out that it could come to eventual fruition, but would advise not to hold your breath. In contrast, speculation about Celustka only surfaced a few days ago when it was reported that he had been offered to Sunderland and Crystal Palace after turning down a loan move to Turkish rivals Antalyaspor. But it is thought to have been Stoke rather than Palace who were competing with Sunderland.
Trabzonspor need to reshuffle the pack being restricted to have only 10 foreign players like other Turkish clubs and it was left to the administrator of Celustka's social network profiles, Burak, who leaked his acceptance of Sunderland's bid after midnight on Saturday. Within hours, the agreement was tweeted all over Twitter before his planned journey to Sunderland for a medical and to finalise terms. It also came well ahead of any report of the impending transfer on traditional news services. Even before signing, followers of Celu on Twitter soared more than fivefold to over 1,000.
One of the consequences was to enthuse Burak to also transfer his allegiance to Sunderland, declaring himself a newly converted fan and seeking a shirt embossed with Celu's name. He had no qualms that it was likely to take the Czech U21 international time to adapt to the Premier League. “He must develop himself,” he told wearewearside.com. When turning down Antalyaspor, Celu declared himself that he wanted to try England. His agent Viktor Kolar from Sport Invest Group also suggested that he must grab his chances. “His engagement with Sunderland is a big challenge,” he said.
Celu will be only the fourth Czech playing in the Premiership but has some reputation to follow coming after the other three - Chelsea's goalkeeper Petr Čech, defender Tomas Kalas and Arsenal's midfielder Tomas Rosicky. And he may not be the last with Sunderland previously linked with strikers Libor Kozak and Matej Vydra, who may still be on backburners.
With yet another nationality in the squad, the immediate thought is that it could provide a further language headache for Paolo Di Canio and his Italian coaches. But Burak revealed that Celu's English is actually quite good. He also has his own Italian connections previously being on a six month loan to Palermo, while learning his apprenticeship at Slavia Prague. According to Burak, his Italian may also prove to be useful on the training pitch and in the dressing room as he still takes holidays there.
Whether Celu slots straight in against Fulham remains to be seen with Gardner suspended, but he is thought to be match fit having already played in four Eurocup qualifying games in the past few weeks. In the past, he also gained some experience in the Championship League during his two years at Trabzonspor, notably scoring the winning goal in a rare defeat of Inter-Milan at San Sira in September 2011.
His signing comes with much relief after wondering if Ellis Short would ever reopen his chequebook again following an almost one month drought after a spate of nine new players. But in reality, it only slightly eases the burden, with Sunderland still needing at least another full-back and a creative midfielder in a rather scant squad, with only five days to go before the start of the season and less than three weeks before the transfer window slams firmly shut. More hopefully to follow this week.