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Lee Cattermole: Should He Stay Or Should He Go?

Lee Cattermole, loved by some, loathed by others. Will the divisive captain be sacrificed as part of the summer overhaul or is Paolo Di Canio the man to sort out his fitness and discipline?

Michael Regan

Love him or hate him, Lee Cattermole has undoubted pedigree. Since making his debut for Middlesbrough in the top flight, he has never played below that level. Indeed, by the age of 22 he was made captain of his third Premier League club. When he took the Sunderland armband from the departing Lorik Cana, it followed spells as both Middlesbrough's and Wigan Athletic's youngest ever captain.

Now, at the age of 25, Cattermole's career could well be at a crossroads, particularly in terms of his time on Wearside. With the arrival of fitness obsessive Paolo Di Canio, it is the Stockton man's injury record as much as his oft discussed disciplinary problems that are likely to come into sharp focus.

In his four seasons with the club, Cattermole has averaged 22 games per season in all competitions. Whether it a needless suspension or another stint on the treatment table, that is simply not enough not enough time spent on the pitch for a man given the responsibility of being his side's driving force from midfield. It makes Cattermole the recurring slipped disc in the spine of this team.

Following each stretch on the side-lines the former Boro man tends to take a few games to get back up to speed but once he does he transforms the midfield from a malfunctioning Lada into a terrain crushing monster truck. He is the combative antidote to a collection of midfielders - Alfred N'Diaye aside - lacking in drive, power, purpose and leadership.

Allied to his hunger and passion is an underrated passing rang; few at the club can switch play as well as him. Then there is his often overlooked ability to transform defensive situations into attacks

The question should not be whether he is good enough for Sunderland; instead it has to be asked whether he is still worth persevering with given the lack of games and inability to steer clear of suspension.

Perhaps Di Canio thinks he is the man to whip Cattermole into shape physically and if that is the case it will be interesting to see how he goes about improving his discipline. Whilst it is true that on occasion he is unfairly treated by referees and targeted because of previous misdemeanours, he must also curb his enthusiasm and not give them the excuse to show red, a colour card he has seen far too many times in his relatively short career to date. There is a fine line between tenacity and stupidity and Cattermole has a tendency to cross it, illustrated by his career total of seven red cards.

Alternatively, Di Canio might ponder over whether Alfred N'Diaye - who, after his arrival in January has gradually made his presence felt in the Sunderland midfield - and new acquisition Cabral simply make Cattermole surplus to requirements, particularly with a busy transfer window likely to see further additions to the midfield.

Arguably others deserve to go first; David Vaughan has been overlooked as often as possible by three managers at the Stadium of Light now. His time appears to be up, with rumours of a move to Crystal Palace and a reunion with former boss Ian Holloway circulating in the press.

However, the others - Larsson, Gardner and Colback - all offer something Cattermole does not; versatility. Larsson and Colback in particular have found themselves in several positions and their attitudes will sit favourably with Di Canio as they have with his predecessors.

Larsson has been an undeniably popular figure with all who have managed him. It is worth noting that Di Canio often conveys his messages from the touchline via the Swedish number 7.

With N'Diaye and Cabral likely to be two of the specialist midfielders retained, Cattermole's position begins to look ever more tenuous.

As the case against Cattermole builds, it only worsens when his off field antics are take into account; his previous behaviour will surely not sit well with Di Canio. While Cattermole was the lion at the heart of Bruce's and later O'Neill's midfields, neither seemed to have much of an issue with the drinking culture that has apparently engulfed the Stadium of Light playing staff. Di Canio, however, most certainly does.

People can change and are worthy of a second chance, which Cattermole has been afforded on more than one occasion in his fledgling career. After being arrested in Yarm he was banned from drinking in his native Stockton. This ban - mercifully given Di Canio's attitude towards alcohol - remains in place.

That has not prevented him from drinking elsewhere of course. More recently than the Yarm arrest was the incident involving car wing mirrors in Newcastle while on a night out with his sidekick Nicklas Bendnter. Whilst the subsequent charges against Bendtner were dropped, Cattermole accepted a cautionary charge and paid £4000 in damages.

If Di Canio had been manager at the time, it is difficult to imagine him looking the other way. There would have been fines and a public dressing down. The presence of his favourite substance alcohol, would certainly not have gone unnoticed. It is highly unlikely the events would have been brushed off as daft young lads making drunken mistakes.

Given recent events, it would be no surprise if Di Canio has made himself aware of these previous misdemeanours; it is clearly something he wants to weed out of the club as soon as possible.

That said, it is quite possible that Cattermole still likes a drink but is willing to curb that side of his personality. It is fair to say that his decisions off the pitch as much as his performances on it will be crucial to any future relationship with his new boss.

Despite all of this, Cattermole's popularity with some sections of Sunderland's support has never been greater. Conversely, his departure would leave many others feeling apathetic or even celebratory. In this summer of mammoth changes and huge decisions, Cattermole is likely to be used as an example by Di Canio, regardless of which side of that divide he falls on.

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