Hundreds of calls, fighting off interest, a health scare and a missing man - how Town signed match-winner Celina this summer

Bersant Celina was Ipswich Town's match-winner against Fleetwood on Saturday

Bersant Celina was Ipswich Town's match-winner against Fleetwood on Saturday - Credit: Ray Lawrence

Saturday’s dramatic match-winning goal had been many, many months in the making. 

Hours of talks, hundreds of phone calls and plenty of sleepless nights were needed to ensure Bersant Celina’s return to Ipswich Town on loan, leading to the Kosovo international’s big moment as he slammed home the Blues’ winner against Fleetwood. 

It sparked joyous scenes in the stands, no celebration more vigorous than in the directors box where CEO Mark Ashton and co-owner Brett Johnson jumped for joy as a special day for the Blues ended in victory. 

Mark Ashton’s face was a picture as the goal went in. And so it might be. Not only did the goal ensure a win on his boss’s first visit, but it also brought the first big moment for a man he spent all summer chasing. Indeed, Celina was the very first name on his hitlist. 

Bersant Celina celebrates his late winner

Bersant Celina celebrates his late winner - Credit: Ray Lawrence

He was always seen as the cherry on top of Ipswich’s recruitment this summer. Ashton and his team baked the cake and iced it, with 17 new signings arriving heading into deadline day. But it took until the final hours of the window for that cherry to be placed.  

There were times the deal, which always felt ambitious, looked extremely unlikely. Serious interest from the Middle East threatened the move while a heart issue, suffered as a result of a Covid-19 infection, took Celina out of football for a prolonged period.  

But Ipswich moved quickly when the attacker was cleared to return, completing a move which excited supporters and brought an entire summer’s worth of work to a satisfactory conclusion. 

Most Read

“He was the very first one, even before I’d met Paul Cook,” Ashton said of the Celina deal. 

“I remember being at my home in the Midlands on a sunny day, being outside and Paul was on the phone. We were beginning to introduce ourselves to each other.  

“We both talked about Bersant Celina and whether we thought it was a realistic opportunity. You take a deep breath when you look at his history and where he is (currently playing – Dijon in France). 

Bersant Celina is back at Ipswich Town

Bersant Celina signed for Ipswich Town on deadline day - Credit: ITFC

“I spoke to his representatives, who I have known for many years, and laid out what we thought could be a plan. 

“There were some twists and turns. Zoom calls with Bersant, with his family, with Dijon and I felt we were getting there. Then I had a text from his representatives with disappointing news, that had a heart problem.  The first reaction, of course, is ‘is he ok?’ 

“Then the reality hits that it puts the stop on the deal and we all felt we’d have to revisit this in January. I told the board that but we all stayed in touch and checked in to see how he was. 

Bersant Celina pictured in action was on loan from Manchester City last season. Picture: STEVE WA

Celina is back for a second spell at Ipswich, having previously played for the club in 2017/18 - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

“Then the reports came to us that we could get him back if he passed certain medical tests, so we revisited it. 

“It was perseverance and, in fairness to Paul Cook, he had to persuade him this was the right place for him to play his football and how he would fit in. My job was the contract, the agent, the deal, the clubs and the medical teams. 

“We stayed with it and stayed with it.” 

But even with the loan deal concluded and signing announced, at 8am on deadline day, the worry wasn’t over. 

“Right until the end, I could not tell you this was going to get done,” Ashton continued. 

Bersant Celina after the defeat at Accrington Stanley.

Celina was Town's 18th signing of a busy summer - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

“Even getting the paperwork across the line, with people in different places, was a real challenge. 

“Everyone at this football club, Luke (Werhun, chief operating officer) and Stuart (Hayton, club secretary), his representatives and everyone at Dijon, the doctors and lawyers. It was a myriad of people involved. 

“We had a bizarre period of a couple of hours when Luke and one of the lawyers were trying to get hold of him and we couldn’t.  

“Dijon said everything was fine, the agent said everything was fine but we couldn’t find Bersant. I think he was asleep. 

“Then you start seeing shadows and imagining stories of teams coming in for him, or that we weren’t being told the full story. But it wasn’t any of that – he'd actually gone for a lie down for a few hours. 

“When we had eyes on him, we were locking the big blue gates behind him at the training ground and he was going nowhere.” 

Ipswich Town CEO Mark Ashton greets Bersant Celina at Playford Road

Mark Ashton finally has eyes on Celina on transfer deadline day - Credit: ITFC

But while Celina would not be at Ipswich Town now, were it not for the perseverance of Ashton, the player’s desire to return to Suffolk and Paul Cook’s ability to sell the Blues’ new vision made the switch possible. 

“Fair play to him, from the very first conversations we had, he said he wanted to come back here,” Ashton said. 

“That gave us a glimmer of hope and we just stayed with him before we got it done. 

“What we’ve had to do, with all of the players, is sell them a vision for this football club. We had to be honest, we’re in League One but we have a plan. The staff, Paul and his team, the performance staff with Andy Rolls, have been key. 

“We sell a vision to them and that’s what we have to do. When you add that to his previous attraction and affection for the football club, then the stars line up.” 

Town’s No.43 showed his first real moment of star quality on Saturday. Ashton and all those associated with Ipswich will be hoping it was the first of many. 

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter