So, in the last few days SAFC have been linked heavily with Slovakian midfielder Juraj Kucka of Sparta Praha in the Czech League. I don't know anything about him, and no doubt you don't either. However I spoke to one man who does know; Michal Petrak.
Michal worked for Czech football monthly 'Hattrick' for 9 years, and has now moved to 'Sport' a Czech daily, where he has been for the last 1.5 years. He has also commentated on the Premier League, Champions League and various other competitions, including the last two World Cups & European Championships, for Czech TV station 'Nova Sport'.
Here's what he had to say...
Sunderland have been strongly linked with Juraj Kucka from Sparta Praha. I’ll be perfectly honest, I’ve never heard of him, and I imagine many other Sunderland fans are in the same boat. Can you tell us more about him?
Michal: I would say Kucka is one of the best players bought by Sparta in recent years. He is a dynamic midfielder who came in January 2009 from top Slovak team Ruzomberok and quickly became a key player for Sparta in their quest for 2009/10 league title. He is very powerful and has a fine shot and his attitude and determination are excellent. This year he played around 50 matches (incl. internationals), more than any other Sparta player. According to rumours, more clubs are after him for January transfer window - several Italian (Genoa, Lazio, Parma, Palermo) or English (SAFC, Blackburn, Birmingham) ones. This autumn his performances suffered by lack of summer holidays - he joined Sparta pre-season camp almost immediately after the World Cup and sometimes the tiredness could be seen.
From reading Wikipedia, it says he’s Roy Keane-esque. Do they mean in the way he controls a game, or does he have a fiery temper?
Michal: I would say both explanations are true. When he has his day, he can control a game like no other player in the Czech league. He is physically strong and determined and can really rule in the midfield. Fiery temper is also his characteristic - I do not know whether he would be able to hurt someone deliberately (like Keane hurt Haaland), but he is very stubborn, has enormous will to win and when he feels injustice or wrong-doing, he can turn really angry.
Wiki also says he made the World Cup squad for Slovakia without playing a qualifying game. Was this due to injury to another player, or does he have "super sub" or "wildcard" ability?
Michal: It is true Slovakia missed their captain, midfielder Miroslav Karhan, but I am convinced Kucka would have made the squad irrespective of that. He had a very strong spring half of season and showed really terrific performances at Slovak pre-WC friendlies. He really deserved that and was one of the best Slovak players in South Africa. He is a simple man (which I do not mean to dishonest him) and does not let pressure get to him. He plays without nerves at any stage.
Who is he most similar to in the Sunderland squad, in his style of play?
Michal: I would say he is a hybrid of Lee Cattermole and Jordan Henderson - powerful, fierce tackler with a strong drive forward and eye for important goals. On the other hand, his performances are sometimes rather uneven, which could be explained by his age (23) and aforementioned lack of rest during summer.
The price we’ve been reading is between 3 & 4 million Euros. Would that represent a bargain for Sunderland or is it over paying?
Michal: More of a bargain. If he stabilises his form on his WC2010 level, he could be worth much more. When I compare him to Paul Konchesky, who cost Liverpool 4m Euros, Kucka is a better player with better potential.
Should Kucka sign, do you think he will adapt well to the rigors of the English game?
Michal: I think Premier League or the Bundesliga are two competitions he is best suited for. He will have to work on his speed and stable performances (as I mentioned higher) and the step from Czech league to Premier League is a huge one, but I can see him fit there when he gets used to the speed of play. The intensity of matches should be no problem for him.
Do you get watch much English football, and if so what do you make of Sunderland this season?
Michal: Last season I watched (and commentated on) PL regularly, now less so, because there is no Czech TV station with Premier League rights. The one we can watch resides in Slovakia and is not very wide spread here. Sportbars are the only (legal) solution for me. From what I have seen, I would say 7th place is good for SAFC and Steve Bruce would do well by switching to 4-3-3 (like against West Ham) more often to get the most from the in-form trio Gyan, Bent, Welbeck. He would also eliminate the excessive amount of draws - as everyone knows, in a 3-point system, a loss and a win are one point better than two draws.
Thanks for talking with us Michal, and enjoy the festive season.
Michal Tweets regularly about the Czech league and other hot topics. You can follow him @michalpetrak