There was a time, not too long ago, when Sunderland fans would go above and beyond in a bid to defend their much maligned captain, Lee Cattermole. "Catts" epitomised a side of the game that is fast being replaced. An archetypal skipper of a time soon to be forgotten, leading his side by example with a brand of combative football, real "heart on the sleeve" stuff which endeared him to the home fans yet made him a figure of hate for everyone else.
While opposition supporters, and indeed the mass media, were quick to pigeon-hole Cattermole in the "Reckless thug" file and be done with it, we would be left banging our heads against a brick wall in defence of the central midfielder, with absolutely no-one willing to listen to the case for the accused.
For example, here a number of comments from a Mail Online article discussing Cattermole's future, published back in August:
"Can't believe there are people stupid enough to pay this coward for impersonating a footballer"
"Joey Barton wannabe"
"This thug should have no place in any side, other than a Sunday Pub Football team"
Whether journalists or punters will care to admit it however, scratch away at the rugged surface and beneath there is an accomplished footballer who doesn't get the plaudits he often deserves.
Indeed in the 2011/12 season the stats would certainly back up those in favour of the club captain, who amassed an impressive 90% pass completion rate of balls played to team mates in his own half as well as an equally eye-catching 74% in opposition territory.
Even in the final third of the field, Cattermole, while certainly not labelled as an attack minded player what so ever, managed to complete 68% of his passes, which even surpassed the likes of Sebastian Larsson that term, who managed just 66%.
Cattermole also boasts an impressive record of never playing outside of the top flight since making his debut for ‘Boro and has since held the captain's armband at each of his three clubs, all before the age of twenty-two. Indeed Cattermole seems to have been around for so long the very fact that he has only just reached the ripe old age of twenty-five is almost unbelievable.
However, rather than being cast as the warrior in the heart of Di Canio's midfield, Cattermole has found himself cast aside, dumped on the sizeable scrapheap outside of the Stadium of Light with only Phil Bardsley for company having been stripped of the captains arm band over the summer months as well as his number six shirt being replaced with a rather telling thirty-three. And no, this is not a knowing nod back to the days of Julio Arca, I know I've bigged up Cattermole's ability somewhat, but that would be stretching things just a tad.
Leaving the Teessider's disciplinary issues to one side, for the time being at least, it is more often than not injury which costs Cattermole the most playing time, who has averaged just twenty-two games in each of his four seasons on Wearside.
In fact he even managed to pick up an injury whilst playing for the under-21's in a game that was no doubt expected to put the midfielder in the shop window rather than back on the physio's treatment bench.
However, while the future of his scrap-heap companion, Phil Bardsley, seems cut and dry there have been hints of a reprise for Cattermole from his gaffer recently, who towards the end of August seemed to suggest a return to the fold if he was to remain at the club following the transfer window.
Well, September 2nd has now come and gone, so where does Cattermole now figure?
Truth be told? Your guess is as good as mine.
There looked to be a time when Cattermole's time on Wearside was done and dusted. Alfred N'Diaye looked to be a diamond in the rough that the club were willing to take some time to polish into more of a finished article, however that potential diamond was swiftly moved back to Turkey in the close season. A decision that continues to baffle somewhat.
Then we had the addition of Cabral to the squad. The Cape Verde International joined Sunderland from FC Basle before impressing during pre-season, so much so that he indeed took Cattermole's number six shirt in the squad. Cabral carried his eye-catching form into Sunderland's opening Premier League game against Fulham and looked to have cemented his place in the starting eleven. Skip forward two further league games against Southampton and Crystal Palace and the imposing Cabral is yet to make a second appearance.
With Di Canio willing to grant first team football to the likes of David Vaughan, another midfielder many would have expected to no longer be plying his trade on Wearside, and the case for Cattermole begins to stack up.
With Ki Sung-Yeung identified as the, ahem, man with the keys, Di Canio will certainly be looking for more stability to allow the Korean to do what he does best and try to bring some much needed creativity to this side. With Cabral seemingly unable to tie down a position in the side and David Vaughan continuing to flatter to deceive, there may just be a chance for Lee Cattermole to stake his claim for a return.
Many would no doubt see the former captain's return the side as an admission of failure by the club, another position which they were unable to fill during the transfer window and a desperate case of back-peddling. They may well have a case, but we are where we are and it would be remiss and indeed preposterous not to consider every option which we have at our disposal.
For me, Cattermole's style of play could very well suit Di Canio's setup. At his best, Cattermole would scurry around the field, frantically closing down the opposition, snapping at their heels and not allowing them a second to settle on the ball, breaking up the play whilst all the while roaring his team mates to follow suit. At his worst, well he'd either be sent off or suspended/injured to start with, delete at applicable.
What's the worst that can happen?