Lee Cattermole is worshipped by the masses on Wearside. A protector, an enforcer, a midfield force wearing his heart on his sleeve, a footballer we know who is trying to better himself.
From staying on his feet to his passing range there's little doubt he is trying to develop his game season upon season. If Gus Poyet did anything beyond the 13/14 season's great escape and cup run it was to put his arm round Catts and convinced him he can be better.
The naive rough and tumble defensive midfielder suddenly now has an air of 'holding' sophistication about him, those long diagonal balls, a passing percentage of 80%+ in his last two seasons, the way he now presses space instead of the player, keeping the angles tight which allow him to dictate the way his opponents can attack, and upping his chances of intercepting the ball rather than sliding into a tackle.
He's still very much a work in progress and not without his faults, but his improvements are clear for all to see. However, away from Wearside he's seen by the uneducated and unintelligent as a thug, a bully, a wreckless liability and poor player. People who only see him play once or twice a season against their own clubs, led by poor one dimensional stats and poor journalism.
So let's explore the stats of this 'Thug' with a bit more depth. It's easy to see the basic statistic of 14 yellow cards on articles across the net with buzz phrases like 'on course to break disciplinary records records' and 'lacking discipline.' One media outlet even labelled Lee Cattermole "Silly" recently.
Now, I'm not here to mold your opinion. I try keep stats as balanced as possible. After all we have an emotional investment.
Where the uninformed write him off, we can be guilty of being over defensive with our bias. It's just human nature. But information is power and power is knowledge. Opinions should be developed with new information. So let's explore his disciplinary issues this season to try and explore weather Lee Cattermole is being unfairly targeted
The table above uncovers some yellow card stats of the top 7 midfielders in the Premir league for committed fouls.
Cattermole stands out like a sore thumb with his yellow cards for fouls, but looking along the line at games per yellow and fouls per yellow, on the face of it tolerance for Catts appears to have alluded referees. Just 3.8 fouls per Yellow card could show that his cards are marked from the second he leaves the tunnel, while the nasty Fallaini can spit, stamp an elbow his way to a yellow card every 12.2 fouls. The gulf is enormous.
But does that tell us anything concrete? Fallaini is a nasty piece of work, the incidents back it up. But does it make it black and white that Fallaini is taking liberties and getting away with it?
This is why stats should never form your opinion and should instead help you to build one. What this table doesn't tell you is the way these midfielders are deployed. Of all the midfielders on the list Catts is without doubt the player who tends to sit the deepest, despite Dick Advocaat encouraging him to get forward a bit more.
Under Gus he was expected to sit in front of the back two with his fellow defenders stepping forward to form a back three whilst in possession with the wing backs pushing forward. This put Catts constantly in a danger area where fouls committed are often met with bookings.
The other midfielders have enjoyed much more freedom to get forward, especially the likes of Fallaini who was for long spells has been deployed in a more attacking role. We have to be honest here, fouls which are committed in your opponents half are less likely to receive a card where fouls in your own half, especially around your own penalty area will incur bookings.
'But Lee has a reputation with referees,' I bet you're thinking? Well, Lee Cattermole has been booked by 10 different officials this season with many of the usual suspects, who we were all certain held a "Catts grudge' looking to have finally shrugged the monkey.
Officials such as Andre Marriner, Kevin Friend and Phil Dowd, the usual suspects, have had plenty games to enforce their grudge this season, yet Catts has coasted through many of their games booking free.
His booking at the hands of Kevin Friend came in the 2-0 home defeat of Arsenal where if you recall he took one for the team as Oxlade-Chamberlain moved to break, one of many booking this season he took on the chin for the team. A stone wall yellow with no arguments.
Then there's his booking at the hands of Phil Dowd in the 1-3 win over Palace when Catts was dispossessed out of position so went through the back of Chamakh. Again no complaints. So it appears that Lee is in fact building bridges with some of the old guard referees who just loved to dish the card out to him in the past.
But 14 bookings is a lot. Seeing every game Catts has played this season I, like many, was left furious with some of the decisions. Take his booking against Swansea at the hands of Chris Foy where on the stroke of half time produced a superb tackle to disposes Sigurdsson. The only game involving Catts that Chris Foy took charge of and he booked him for nothing.
Then we have the Booking against Stoke where Martin Atkinson booked Catermole after just 18 minutes, for a shoulder charge! Then we have rookie ref Robert Madley who officiated Catts for the first two times in his career booking him twice. Did he enter these games aware of Cattermole's rep and in his inexperience did his part to uphold it? Keeping tabs on him next season should bring some clarity to it.
And of course we have card happy Martin Atkinson who booked Catts three times, including that decision to book him for a shoulder charge. Is he targeting Catts? Again he's one to keep tabs on.
My Opinion? Not that it matters of course, but my research opened my eyes and has swayed my opinion slightly. More info is need next season to confirm or dispel some of the points I've brought up.
It's possible some of the Referee's are targeting him, but it's tough without video evidence. However, the overall standard of officiating has been so bad this season that it's impossible to know for sure without keeping tabs on some of them in the future.
Some things I'm certain of in my mind, most of the referee's are most certainly not targeting him. He's the type of player who will pick up many yellows consistently over his career. It's just a by-product of his game. Are other footballing fans correct in calling him dirty? I don't think so, not a single red card or attempt to hurt someone. Plenty taken for the team, attempts to undo many of his mistakes and a few cases of frustration, but I don't see any malice in the player what so ever. I don't see him trying to hurt anybody unlike others.
He's a strong, passionate, hard tackling protector. Everything us Sunderland fans love in a midfielder. So he gets a lot of yellow cards, so what?
Reputation can take a second to establish and lifetime to shift, I believe this holds stronger in the eyes of the public and media than with the referees who seem to be starting to understand what Catts is all about and appreciate his efforts to adapt his game.
I don't mind that he faces the odd suspension here and there, it's a part of his game that I love and a part I never want to see him lose. Let the idiot Liverpool or Manchester United fan in the pub, who never see their own team play let alone Cattermole, describe him as an evil. They're wrong and only prove that they don't watch enough football to even have an opinion.
Just let Catts be Catts I say. There's no need to feel injustice, the game is changing and as much as we hate that, traditional defensive midfielders like Lee will continue to pick up bookings for challenges we long to return to the game. Just let him do what he does and enjoy him.
I love Catts, me.