Even despite the obvious and glaring decline in his footballing abilities, the majority of Sunderland supporters have a lot of time for Lee Cattermole. He's been a servant of the club for nearly ten seasons now, and there's always been a sense amongst fans that he truly understands what it means to represent Sunderland - especially given his North East roots.
The former Wigan Athletic captain has proven himself as the clear successor in a long line of gritty, tough tackling Sunderland midfield hard men - often channeling the likes of Alex Rae and Kevin Ball with his physicality and determination from the centre of the park.
The 29-year-old has experienced unbelievable highs and ridiculous lows during his time on Wearside and, having started each of the last five games under Chris Coleman, he now looks set to lead from the front in Sunderland’s Championship escape bid.
But we, as fans, often don't consider the emotional toll of repeated relegation scraps which - according to an interview in the Daily Mirror - once left him in tears.
Speaking today, Cattermole said:
Sink or swim, these kind of battles are all I know. The first two relegation escapes – brilliant.
When we stayed up under Sam Allardyce I sat on the toilet in the dressing room... I was emotional. I was really upset. I couldn’t believe we had done it again. That’s what these situations do to you.
But there have been times when I’ve sat there and asked myself, ‘Can I do this again?’ It can be ridiculously horrible. You can get unbelievably low. From one week to the next it becomes a massive pressure. We all care and just want to win.
Hopefully we have hit the bottom now.
I would never sit here and say we should be getting promoted this season and that we are too big to be in this position – we are not.
Although he has our relegation from the Premier League and this season’s slump to second bottom of Championship on his CV, the midfielder has featured in several great escapes from the drop over the years - and, of course, started in the majority of the games in our run towards the League Cup final in 2014.
Some of the stuff we came through I rate as good as winning a trophy. The survivals – two, three times.
What you’ve gone through on a personal level, as a team, the brutal, open chats we’ve had as a group of players. Stuff you’ve had to front up, and find within yourself, to stay in the top flight.
One year we had one point after eight games, SIXTEEN new players. Trying pulling that team together and coming through the other end. We have built two or three squads in my time and then ripped them apart in the summer. That’s hard.
Cattermole, like many Sunderland fans, blames the departure of Sam Allardyce as the reason for our sudden slip down the football hierarchy:
I’m certain he would have stabilised it. It was rocking at the Stadium of Light.
I felt in that summer if we had two or three years of Big Sam, he’d have controlled everything for Ellis Short, and Sam had seen it all.
Cattermole played an integral part in all three goals last weekend at Ashton Gate, proving instrumental in our comeback - which has since been dubbed 'Bristanbul' by amused onlookers - suggesting that there is still life left in the Stockton-born lad yet.
And the former England U21 captain is confident that new boss Chris Coleman is capable of guiding the club towards safety:
To look at the league table is tough. The position we are in is not great. It has been difficult. The Championship is a crazy league, unforgiving. If we can ride out this season we will improve and be more competitive.
It’s a faith that his manager shares in him too, with the former Wales boss commenting earlier in the week on Cattermole’s importance as we head towards the tail-end of the season:
Lee will play a vital role in the rest of the season but they have all got to take the responsibility. They have to follow his example. Just don’t duck it, not be afraid.
Don’t be frightened. Of what? Let’s say the worst case scenario happens and you lose a game of football it can be worse than that if you don’t show up. That is the worst case scenario because that feeling is dreadful.
Irregardless of Cattermole’s performances and ineffectiveness for the majority of this season, it is clear that the Sunderland manager values his importance to the side and knows that this fight is impossible without the backing of some of his most senior players.
If the Black Cats are to survive it’ll be on the back of some influential performances from players like Cattermole who, having played at the top level for the entirety of his career until this season, should have more than enough left in the tank in order to help push us across the line.