Left back has been a problem for Sunderland since Michael Gray left the club, we have had two contrasting spells from George McCartney, the likes of Julio Arca, Kieran Richardson and Jack Colback 'doing a job' in that position, then players like Ian Harte, Clive Clarke, Danny Higginbotham and Danny Collins, who simply weren't good enough.
The club have attempted to fill the position long term without success in the past, notably with Leighton Baines and Ivan Strinic.
Which means Danny Rose's loan spell last season only served to highlight exactly what we've been missing at left back (and even right back) but with Rose currently in the Spurs first team, our chances of bringing him back to the Stadium of Light look remote at the moment. With that in mind, the club have tried all summer to recruit a left back but have had no luck trying to sign Lucas Orban, Benjamin Mendy and Loris Benito in particular.
That may be about to change, with reports in Italy suggesting Juventus left back Paolo De Ceglie is on the verge of sealing a €3.5m move to Sunderland. So just who is De Ceglie and what will he bring to the side?
Paolo De Ceglie is a 26-year-old left back who comes from Aosta, Italy. A Juventus fan since he was a child, he was snapped up by the Bianconeri at the age of 10 and started making his way through their youth system.
De Ceglie, who grew up idolizing Pavel Nedved and primarily played in the same position, left midfield, in his early years, impressed so much for the youth teams that he was called into the squad as an 18-year-old for Juventus' trip to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the 2004/05 Champions League and actually appeared on the bench for the first time but was an unused substitute. He would then have to wait two seasons and for the Calciopoli scandal before he made his senior debut, coming on as a substitute in a 1-1 draw at fellow Serie B side Napoli in November 2006.
He scored his first goal for the club, on his second appearance, in a 4-1 home win against Lecce. Coming on as a substitute with 5 minutes remaining, he made a powerful overlapping run as Juve counter-attacked and scored from a tight angle past the goalkeeper. That wasn't enough to make him a regular however, with more sporadic substitute appearances between then and the end of the season, with his first start coming in a disappointing 1-0 away defeat to Bari in the penultimate game of the season.
He was then sold to Siena in a co-ownership deal before the 2007/08 season and was a regular throughout the season as Siena finished a respectable 13th. His performances with Siena were enough to convince Juventus to pay around £3m to bring him back to the Stadio Olimpico.
On his return to Turin he was mainly used on the left wing, as Cristian Molinaro had made the left back position his own, but his pace and crossing ability made sure he still impressed in the more advanced position. Unfortunately, as he was making himself a fixture in the side, he suffered a collapsed lung during a Coppa Italia game with Napoli in February 2009 which ruled him out for two months. On his return he went straight back into the side but at that point Juventus had decided to buy a new left back in the summer, a move which saw Italian international Fabio Grosso join the club.
Luckily for De Ceglie, Grosso's move to Juventus didn't work out as expected and as the 2009/10 season progressed, 'Paolino' (Little Paolo) found himself more and more involved in the side as his performances improved, with the left back ending up with 31 appearances in all competitions by the end of the season.
At the end of that season, Gigi Delneri took over as Juventus manager, which saw another marked improvement in De Ceglie's performances. Notably the defensive side of his game, which had been lacking, suddenly improved due to Delneri spending time with him during pre-season to work on his positioning and tackling. That improvement meant the player started the season as first choice before a freak injury during an away game against Milan in October left him with a fractured knee cap that ruled him out until the last game of the season.
Although he was hailed by Delneri at the end of that season as one of the successes of their season, despite the injury, De Ceglie has been unable to force his way into the starting line-up on a regular basis since. He signed a new contract until 2017 in 2012 but in both the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons he was in and out of the side and has been unable to become the regular that he threatened to be under Delneri's reign.
In a rare musical interlude for Roker Report, away from football, De Ceglie has recently released a single called 'Moving On' to raise funds for autistic charity 'Association of Ideas', which can be purchased from iTunes:
With Jozy Altidore and Steven Fletcher in the side and our current wingers being instructed to cut inside, overlapping full backs are vital to our tactics and De Ceglie appears to be a perfect fit for this system.
Possibly his biggest strength, and arguably the most important for us, is his ability to overlap down the wing and put in accurate crosses time and time again, a feature of his game that Altidore and Fletcher should thrive with and was a big factor in the player playing left wing on occasion throughout his career.
De Ceglie, who stands a little over 6ft tall, is also noted for his pace and acceleration, with him using both to great effect when going forward and means he is very difficult to beat in one-on-ones with opposing wingers, in fact during the 11/12 season he was only beaten by a dribbling opponent 8 times all season.
While not particularly comfortable on the ball, he is good at short passing, with a passing accuracy of 88% in the 11/12 season and should help Di Canio's plan of playing the ball out from the back.
He does have a reasonable injury record, only missing the odd week here and there due to niggly injuries and the two aforementioned freak injuries, the collapsed lung and the fractured knee cap, being the only serious injuries he has suffered. He is also a quiet and unassuming person and should fit well into the new professional set-up.
Despite Delneri working hard to improve the defensive side of De Ceglie's game and seeing immediate results, the left back has not been able to keep that improvement going, with the defensive side of his game not as strong as it was before the fractured knee cap. His positional sense isn't the best and can be clumsy at times, both on the ball and in the tackle.
He has also struggled for regular starts, with his performances decreasing along with his playing time. However, whenever he has played consistently throughout his career, his performances have improved markedly as a result and with Paolo Di Canio's work on the training ground, it can be hoped that he will be able to improve in a similar manner as to when Delneri gave him one-to-one tuition earlier in his career.
- Excellent crosser of the ball
- Good pace and acceleration
- Should be a good fit for the Premier League
- The more he plays, the better he gets
- Needs regular games, otherwise can struggle
- Hasn't been a regular for some time
- Can be suspect positionally
- Sometimes clumsy on the ball and in the tackle
Paolo De Ceglie looks like he fits the bill in an attacking sense, with his frequent overlapping runs and crosses that will have Fletcher and Altidore's eyes lighting up. We should also have a ready made partnership waiting for him with Emanuele Giaccherini, that, on paper, should work very well with Giac cutting inside while De Ceglie overlaps. The fact he has arguably gone backwards the last couple of seasons could be an issue, however he showed improvement when played regularly and when Delneri worked closely with him in training, so Di Canio could be the ideal coach to bring out the potential he showed earlier in his career.
Overall, if De Ceglie signs and is installed as first choice left back, the regular games that come with that could mean he will end up a bargain.