If you've been paying attention, you'll know that we've been bringing you all our articles from toppermost Sunderland fanzine, A Love Supreme over the summer, and today we bring you the third one we spilled out.
A Love Surpeme, in case you've been living under a rock, has been SAFC's leading publication for nearly all 23 years of it's existence, slaying all opposition, and there certainly has been some. You can pick up a copy of this fine publication, voted UK Fanzine OF The Year 8 (EIGHT) times, outside the ground on a matchday, or subscribe online for a great deal, plus some little extras too - CLICK HERE
Now we hand over to Michael Graham, again, who told us in ALS 208, all about how Lee Cattermole's incredible improvement encapsulated the O'Neill effect...
When Roker Report last took to these pages, spirits were high following the appointment of Martin O'Neill but it would be fair to say that expectations were being cautiously kept in check as the grim reality of our position fully sank in. What a difference a month makes.
What has followed since has been quite remarkable. Steve Bruce's dour rabble of uninspiring one-paced underachievers have somehow been transformed into an organised and committed side with a real flair for the counter-attack and a penchant for producing ruthless winning football. What is even more remarkable is that the transformation has been instant. Barely even the dying embers of his predecessor's reign have been detectable.
On the surface, nothing much seems to have changed. Modern Premier League rules on the transfer window and squad registration means that O'Neill has had the exact same squad available to him as Bruce had. The rough formation in which he has deployed them has also mirrored that which Bruce favoured. Despite speculation to the contrary, he has had the same captain too, and no one man encapsulate the essence of the 'O'Neill effect' like his skipper has.
It would be fair to say that since joining from Wigan, Lee Cattermole's Sunderland performances have resembled an excitable Alsatian dog chasing a tennis ball. Initially he had Lorik Cana holding his leash in midfield and made a very promising start to his career here, but as he has slowly gained more freedom he has descended into becoming little more than an agent of chaos and a loose cannon upon which consistency could never hoped to be built.
The fact that there was a player locked away somewhere deep down inside Lee Cattermole wasn't ever really contested. Amassing the kind of Premier League experience that he has before your mid-twenties and captaining every club he has ever played a Premier League game for are achievements that speak for themselves. The enigma was always how to coax that quality out of him but under O'Neill his game has been instantly elevated to a level that even us Cattermole fans never really believed was in him.
Key to the transformation has unquestionably been the introduction of some focus to his game. You always kind of got the feeling with Bruce that he was very good at assembling a squad, but his matchday routine was one of picking 11 players, plonking them in some kind of standardized formation he once glanced in a 1970s coaching manual, and telling them to get on with it. Well, he said it himself that he was 'not really one for tactics'.
But O'Neill and his highly impressive coach Steve Walford seem to have drilled an actual system of play and identity into Sunderland with simple and clearly defined roles and expectations attached to every position within it, and Cattermole is just loving it.
With the greatest respect to the player, he isn't one you want thinking for himself on the pitch. He looks to have been relieved of the on-pitch quandaries that visibly blighted his game under Bruce, such as where to press, where to contest, and what his responsibilities are when on the ball himself, and his game has improved almost immeasurably as a result.
It isn't just Cattermole's individual game that has flourished under the O'Neill effect, however. Ever since he was appointed captain on the eve of the 2010/11 season, questions have persisted over his suitability for such a (in our eyes anyway) prestigious and important position. After just 4 games leading the team out, Cattermole had been sent off twice and has seemed to be hanging on to the armband by a thread ever since.
Upon O'Neill's arrival, there was further speculation that the club would seek a change of on-pitch leadership. An arrest for criminal damage didn't help his cause, and neither did the fact that the team had failed to win this season to that point with Cattermole on the pitch. But since regaining his place at Loftus Road, he has been a picture of what a captain should be. Calm, authoritative, consistent, and at times really driving the team on from the middle.
It is our prerogative as fans to criticise and even, at times, lament a player. We embrace the club with such devoted ferocity that we never have to apologise for that. I, and all of us at Roker Report, have been as frustrated and condemning as anyone about him. Humble pie never tastes as good as when it is being rammed down your throat with a side serving of the kind of performances Cattermole has been producing lately, though. Lets hope he makes it a staple of all our diets for many years to come.