Lee Barry Cattermole, to some a fine servant to the club and to others the last remaining leader of the ‘rotten core’. Whatever your opinions on Lee Cattermole are, his performances on the pitch over the last twelve months have simply not been good enough - but where did it all go wrong for the former England youth international?
What makes the current state of Lee Cattermole’s Sunderland career all the more hard to swallow is that over his nine years at the club he has been involved in a number of highs, and that we have, on several occasions, seen why he was so highly rated as a youngster.
Unfortunately, there seems to be very little in common with how he played in his best spells for the club.
He was exceptional as an anchor during Gus Poyet’s time at the club - here we saw a disciplined and mature player who brought out the best in those who played ahead of him. He also excelled in a vastly different role, as a tenacious ball winner ahead of the classy Jan Kirchhoff for Sam Allardyce.
A no-nonsense, full-throttle maniac on his day, Cattermole was instrumental in several great escapes. He was almost universally adored by fans who hung onto his every crunching tackle and passionate press.
Yet, despite the fact he has reinvented himself on several occasions as a player, his recent performances have been incredibly poor. Where did that demented midfield enforcer go?
Despite the highs, there has always been constant issues with Lee Cattermole during his time at the club - especially with injury problems and a relatively poor disciplinary record.
Cattermole has played ten or fewer games in two seasons at Sunderland, and appeared in over 30 games the same amount of times. When you consider that he has played first team football since the age of 16, this makes it no surprise that he has looked past his best after his latest major injury.
Despite this, he did manage 35 league appearances last season, so it is possible that he is over those troubling injury problems. It is also worth remembering that Cattermole has also regularly played over twenty games in a season - a number which would surely be enough if he was to remain on Wearside into his thirties.
Despite his relatively injury free season last year, Cattermole's disciplinary record remained an issue - he was given ten yellow cards and one red last year. The problem with getting booked regularly doesn't only come in the shape of suspensions, but because of how it impacts his performances.
Because Cattermole's role in the team is to break up the play, once he is booked he becomes a passenger watching the game pass him buy. It's no wonder Cattermole had such a poor season last year when he was walking this disciplinary tightrope once every three games.
The Ugly? Or The Good Again?
The 2016/17 season is, to date, the worst of Lee Cattermole's career at Sunderland. A player who had spent the entirety of his career in the top flight was outclassed even by players at the bottom of the Championship. However, this may not be the worst of it and unless he can put in some better performances next season in League One he will be forever remembered as a failure, or worse: the risk of becoming despised like our most recent want-away British midfielder, Jack Rodwell.
It is also possible that the opposite is true and that our former captain could become a key member of a relatively successful Sunderland side once again. For Cattermole to become the fans’ favourite he was a few years ago he may have to reinvent himself just as he did under Gus Poyet four years ago. He will have to become more disciplined and cut out the silly fouls and cards, but if he is still hungry enough he should have the ability to stamp his authority on any game at the level we now find ourselves.
Next season is a crossroads for Lee Cattermole: another poor season and he will be chased out of the door by the Sunderland faithful, but if he could find a renaissance of sorts he could still become a dressing room leader of a Sunderland side moving the right way up the football pyramid.
The ball is very much in Cattermole’s court.