clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Captain's Blog: The Continued Cattermole Conundrum

Lee Cattermole was sent off for the fifth time in this relatively short Sunderland career at MK Dons in the League Cup third round. But is it time we just accept and appreciate the combative midfielder for what he is without condemnation of his faults?

Julian Finney - Getty Images

The great thing about football is the amount of talking points it throws up. Different people can easily watch the same game and emerge with completely different things catching their eye.

There was only one thing Sunderland fans were really talking about after the League Cup third round win at MK Dons, though. Unfortunately, it wasn't Craig Gardner's stunning free kick, James McClean's return to form, or David Meyler's effortless adaptation to the centre back position.

The only thing that anyone was really talking about was Lee Cattermole's dismissal and subsequent three-match ban that will see him miss the upcoming derby clash with Newcastle United.

Like many, I suspect, my initial response was a sinking feeling. The 'Lee Cattermole debate', silenced for so long, had been reopened.

But then I arrived at a realisation. This wasn't a renewal of an old question, unwillingly crowbarred open again like some crate containing an old unpleasant relic in a musky warehouse. The matter of whether Lee Cattermole has anything tangible to offer the side other than untempered aggression has been definitively addressed since Martin O'Neill's arrival at the club and the player proved he was capable of so much more than that.

The question we are faced with today is a different one: Having been forced to accept that Cattermole will probably always have this senseless and reckless streak quietly ticking under the surface like an unstable time bomb with a faulty timer, is his best good enough to make him a risk worth taking?

It would be fair to say that since the Sunderland skipper's moment of madness at stadium:mk I have seen the full spectrum of responses. For some, there was outrage. At least it was what looked like outrage. Personally, that is a reaction I struggle to understand. By now, we know what Cattermole is. We know of his nature and, when it works in our favour, we hail it. In fact we roar it on from the stands. Being outraged by it makes no sense at all and strikes me as being a little hypocritical to boot.

If we dismiss that particular overly-dramatic point of view, then the remaining two make up the crux of the argument. Firstly a sense of anger that he had let us down once too many times now, and secondly a mix of disappointment and frustration that it has happened, often punctuated with a barely audible 'same old Cattermole' muttered through quiet sighs of resignation.

I think I spent most of Tuesday evening swinging between those two perspectives, but ultimately it boils down to one irrevocable fact - Sunderland are a better team with Lee Cattermole in it than they are without him. It really is that simple.

For all David Vaughan and David Meyler are good players and certainly able deputies, there isn't another player in the squad who can provide the leadership and intensity that Cattermole does. Granted, that intensity can haunt him and cost him at times, but such occasions are the minority. We shouldn't forget that. When it isn't there it is usually missed.

Perhaps most importantly however, there isn't another player in the squad who can provide the level of protection for his back four that Cattermole does. He was a noticeable miss after being withdrawn through injury at Swansea and was a big influence on the good defensive performance at West Ham last week too.

If Martin O'Neill is going to persist with his current system of making sure Sunderland are tough to beat primarily and go from there - and there is absolutely nothing to suggest otherwise - then Lee Cattermole, warts and all, becomes a vital and almost irreplaceable player in that for now.

He isn't perfect, and there seems to be a genuine sense of befuddlement in the wider footballing community that Sunderland fans would even entertain the notion of 'putting up' with him and his disciplinary record. But I absolutely defy anyone who really watches Sunderland closely on a weekly basis to fail to notice his importance.

Will Lee Cattermole finally learn from this latest incident? Almost certainly not. If he hasn't learned by now I think it is time we accept that he is never actually going to. He is what he is. Would he even be the same player if he did? Perhaps we should just learn to love him for what he is rather than continually define him by what he isn't.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Roker Report Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Sunderland news from Roker Report