Aside from having a name reminiscent of a staunch Union leader in 50’s Britain, and with a haircut to match, Lee Barry Cattermole also seems to have the same wherewithal and tactical nuances as your stereotypical “lad” from that era.
There’s nothing prim and proper about him bar the knife edge he uses to make that side parting, and you know what? It used to be endearing. But please, to anyone who can hear this, take Lee Cattermole away from my beloved Sunderland this instant.
I've gone out on a limb many times to defend Cattermole. There was a time when dragging opposition players around the pitch by their shirt, or flying in studs-up on some poor unsuspecting victim, was an asset. It “set the tone”, I would tell myself. It represented the hardness of our aspect as a club.
Now, though, I feel as if I was watching him through rose-tinted glasses.
It wasn't so long ago that he was attracting offers of around six million from Stoke, but right now surely you couldn't pay someone six million to tolerate this caustic liability that jogs around the pitch shouting orders at better, more intelligent and responsible players, and doing his best impression of a defensive midfielder. It's a joke, and like most jokes about Sunderland AFC it just isn't funny anymore.
Possibly the most offensive part of Lee Cattermole's current state is that we all wanted so much to believe that he was a more cultured player than he’s given credit for. We wanted to believe that he was simply a man's man; a weird, shining throwback to a bygone era when men were men and women were gals and if you didn't tuck your shirt in to your shorts you were a scruff and wanted hoying in the sea for a wash. Alas, I fear this is not the case.
Why do the people that run this club not have the wherewithal to see what you and I can see with our eyes closed? Why does the poor attitude and worse incompetence of certain players get ignored? Why are allowances made for midfielders that can't tackle or pass? Is it simply because we haven't got any money? Contractual obligations? Squad depth? Those are certainly a factor today, but that hasn’t been the case for far beyond this season, following relegation and the sledgehammer of accumulated debt.
Half the fan base wrestles with it's conscience when those among it just can't be bothered or can't afford to spend the weekend following the lads, this much is true. So why don't the players themselves have to do this? It’s far past time the club itself look at the characters and attitudes and egos that clearly pollute the dressing room and infect the mentality as a whole, and just burn out the disease at the root.
Cattermole’s recent fall from grace has been spectacular and I can no longer stand by the decision to keep handing him on-pitch responsibility. This is only a year on since I was defending him, maintaining that he had something about him, that he was a spiritual leader as much as anything else, and that he had the hard-tackling mentality of the North East in his corner.
Is it possible that he has fallen so dreadfully far from grace in his capacity to play football since then? Or were my words then all just so much romanticism – something I've been guilty of many times, and an unavoidable danger of writing coupled with passion, at least where Football is concerned. Truthfully, anyone with a statistically analytical mind could have challenged me when I said Lee Cattermole was a good player. In a way I'm kind of bummed out that no one did, because convincing me of the truth would have spared me the anger that I feel about him now. In fact now that I think about it they probably did, several times. But I wouldn’t hear none of it. Why? Because I didn’t want to hear it.
What I and presumably we all want from a Sunderland player is heart, second only to actual ability. Is it not fair, now, to say that sometimes you can mistake one thing for another? That heart can be mere aggression in disguise?
It's easy to mistake roughness for commitment, violence for no-nonsense, shouting for leadership, etc., but enough is enough. Lee Cattermole has been a liability since well before this season started, and there's nothing about him that tells me he's going to change any time soon. If the expected mentality of a Sunderland player is to jog around the pitch and stick studs into people - not even to help your team by ashamedly fouling someone breaking through on goal - as they run around you again and again and again, making you look like a third-rate failed semi-professional... well, it isn’t the expected mentality. It isn’t an acceptable mentality. I don't follow Sunderland because I expect gorgeous football, obviously, but I do expect decency and hard work and no nonsense. Sadly, these days we don't get any of those attributes from Cattermole.
Frankly I would now be amazed if we receive a seven-digit offer for him, but I'd have your babies if you take him off Sunderland and give that spot to any of the hard-working, faster, more talented people waiting in the wings. I know, I hear you: there are no world class centre-mids to replace him. We've got a thin squad and we're skint, but ask yourself: do you really need “great” to replace “limited”?