Ondrej Celustka is on a steep learning curve. Sunderland’s Czech right-back is getting used to a new language as well as a new way of playing football.
The 24-year-old does not have an English tutor and has been relying on his television and his team-mates to get adjusted to the former, but his initiation into the latter is about to step up a gear.
After a stop-start opening to the season, this afternoon’s game at Aston Villa is the first of eight in 29 days for Sunderland.
Plenty of Premier League footballers will be complaining, with good reason, about the excessive demands this most hectic time of year places on them.
For Celustka, it will be a crash course he is looking forward to.
It is late November and the Premier League is only starting to get going.
Two international breaks – the last of which saw Celustka mark his Czech debut with a third-minute goal against Canada – stop the campaign building any momentum.
When you have had three different managers as well, as the Black Cats have, it makes life even more challenging.
Celustka said: “Sometimes it’s difficult to get used to when there are so many changes but we are professional players, we have to be ready for this, it happens everywhere.
“We just have to get used to the new manager.
“We didn’t start the season well so now we’re running out of time. During December we have seven games, a very busy time. We will just go from game to game.
“It’s not something I’m used to but it will be a good thing because there will be lots of opportunities for me to grow up and improve. I want to play in as many games as I can and try to put the maximum into it.”
If Celustka has heard few familiar voices on Wearside – even his television does not pick up Czech channels – there is at least one at the end of the telephone.
Two weeks after Celustka’s arrival, Villa signed Libor Kozak from Lazio.
Whether the striker features today after being on the wrong end of the triple substitution which transformed Villa’s fortunes at West Bromwich Albion on Monday remains to be seen but, with the pace and power at Paul Lambert’s disposal, Celustka knows he will be in for a tough afternoon even if he is denied the “good confrontation” he is hoping for. He added: “I know Libor Kozak, he is my team-mate with the Czech Republic.
“Now we text every day and this week especially.
“I know who the key players are there. They have very good players, I know that.”
With 13 foreign players signed in the summer, Celustka is by no means the only one having to get used to a new country and in football terms England is a world away from the continental leagues. Yet one of the good things which can be said about Roberto De Fanti’s shopping spree was at least Sunderland’s director of football got most of it done early. Celustka had no such luck, his loan from Trabzonspor only finalised in the first week of the season.
While it has taken a bit of adjusting to, the former Slavia Prague and Palermo defender is a big fan of the Premier League, where he has been encouraged to play as a second winger at times.
He said: “For me as a right-back I like this style of football. I’m ready to play this way now.
“I enjoy it, of course. It’s another style of football, different to Turkey and Italy.
“I had my pre-season in Turkey so in the beginning I had to think about my game maybe more than other players. When I was working in pre-season I did not expect to be playing for this team so I had to learn much more quickly.”
While many of De Fanti’s signings have been instantly disregarded, not only by Poyet but Paolo Di Canio and Kevin Ball too, Celustka has established himself as an important part of the squad.
He has been involved in all but one of Sunderland’s 12 league games, starting nine of them. His importance of the squad has only been increased by Poyet’s appointment. The Uruguayan is a committed believer in using his players in their preferred position and that puts Celustka at a major advantage. Phil Bardsley, ostracised by Di Canio, is the club’s only other specialist right-back and when the only left-back, Andrea Dossena, has been unavailable the Scotland international has had to fill in there.
Although Celustka was a long way from his best at Stoke City last week, where he was particularly careless in possession, the back four he has formed with John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Bardsley has looked reassuringly solid during the three games Dossena has been suspended, only conceding three times. It will be interesting to see if the Italian can regain his place now he has served his ban or if Poyet will persist with an out-of-position Bardsley.
Right from his first day in the job, the new coach always promised he would build from the back. Celustka, who used to watch Brown and O’Shea on television as a Manchester United fan, insists the changes he has made defensively have been subtle ones.
He added: “There is not a big difference. Gus changed some things in terms of which player you should mark.
“He wants you to follow your man wherever he goes, not pass him on.
“This is the biggest difference.”