Ondrej Celustka arrived at Sunderland expecting a fight for his place but the 24-year-old right-back could be pressed into action immediately.
To all intents and purposes, Celustka is the Black Cats’ only specialist full-back after joining on a season-long loan from Trabzonspor. Yet on signing for the club yesterday he was talking only of winning a place in the team.
“I’m happy to be here and I hope we will be successful,” he said in an interview with the club’s official website, before adding: “I would like to be ready for the team.
“I hope if I play here I will have a big chance to play in the (Czech) national team.
“It could be a big chance for me because I’ve only played for the Under-21s, I’ve never been in the (senior) team.”
Celustka feels playing regularly in the Premier League will only enhance his chances if he can manage it. “It’s a big motivation for me, of course,” he said. “It’s the best league in the world and a lot of people are watching this league, so of course I would like to show (what I can do).”
In an ideal world the Black Cats might prefer not to throw Celustka in at the deep end, but options are thin on the ground if they are not going to hand him his full debut at home to Fulham on Saturday in their first game of the new Premier League season.
Midfielder Craig Gardner has filled the right-back role in pre-season, as he often did last term, but he is suspended on the opening day as a result of his red card against Stoke City in May.
Carlos Cuellar offers the most viable alternative to Celustka, but is not well suited to the role Paolo Di Canio has in mind for his full-backs this season. He wants them to play almost as auxiliary wingers, providing the width and the crosses for the team. John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Sebastian Larsson have all played at right-back before, but the first two are likely to be Di Canio’s centre-back pairing against the Cottagers, while Larsson could play an important role in the centre of midfield.
Sunderland do have one other specialist right-back, but Phil Bardsley has been very publicly ostracised after being photographed flaunting his money late at night in a casino last season, and – like Lee Cattermole – it is to Saturday’s opponents the Wearsiders are hoping to sell him. Bardsley and Cattermole both picked up first-half injuries in the reserves 1-0 win at home to Bolton Wanderers yesterday.
Celustka has 18 Under-21 caps and caught the attention of Sunderland’s recruitment team in a goalscoring performance against Inter Milan. He had previously played in Italy, but only featured once in a loan spell with Palermo.
Working with Italian coach Paolo Di Canio appealed to Celustka, whose English is patchy.
“It’s maybe good for me that he’s Italian as I was there and I can speak with him (in Italian) sometimes,” he said.
“I think he will be a big motivator and when I first saw him he was a very professional coach.”
Celustka started the Turkish Super Liga season at left-back – where Sunderland also have a midfielder doing a specialist’s job – and he has played at centre-half too.
Meanwhile, Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne can apparently be scrubbed off the list of wingers Sunderland are looking at after his agent Fabio Andreotti claimed the 22-year-old would not be taking the Black Cats up on their interest.
“The Sunderland rumour is true,” Andreotti said yesterday. “But Lorenzo wants to stay here, even if it means earning less money.”
Insigne can play as a left-winger or centre-forward.
Kieren Westwood will play for the Republic of Ireland against Wales in tomorrow’s friendly. First choice David Forde has a knee injury.