How to solve a problem like Lee Cattermole?
September 26, 2012 in Premier League
In last weekend’s fixtures, a rare sight was witnessed by many football fans. A red card brandished by a referee which had all involved smiling. Of course, the incident was a rare case of referee humour, the red shown to a player after the ref had been caught up in a fair tackle between two players in the Wigan and Fulham match. However, as a Sunderland fan, it was nice to see the colour without it turning into the proverbial bull and wanting to smash someone’s face in. Too often, games are spoilt by red cards.
There has, of course, been one major culprit of this, and it came as no surprise that a red card brandished in Tuesday’s League Cup victory (who remembers the sponsor this year?) was directed at one Lee Cattermole. Luckily, a brilliant freekick from Gardner and a second from Speedy James McClean saw us through to the last sixteen, but Cattermole’s red card is still a major worry. At only 24 years of age, Cattermole has played in a Europa League Final, has played 174 games in the Premier League and has captained three Premier League clubs. He has also been sent off a total of seven times, five of those being for Sunderland – to put that into context, 30-year old Joey Barton has been sent off a total of four times in his.
Manager Martin O’Neill, after the game, branded the tackle ‘senseless’, and he was very right. Bringing the ball out of defence and ghosting past a few of the MK Dons players, a heavy touch took the ball just out of his reach; obviously frustrated, he lunged in two feet in the air and took out young fullback Chicksen. It was a tackle too often seen come from the game of Cattermole, and it leaves O’Neill with a difficult decision to make. “I think he’s got to review the situation – it’s poor because he’s the captain of the side… discipline is something he will have to consider or reconsider, or re-reconsider… We had a bit of a joke about his discipline a couple of weeks ago, but the truth is you’ve got to help yourself somewhere along the way”. This has been too often said about Catts, and O’Neill must be baffled about former manager Steve Bruce’s decision to instil him as Captain of the club.
So what to do with Cattermole? A popular player both on and off the field, for O’Neill to have taken the captaincy off him would have endangered the team morale which was so important in that brilliant run we went on after O’Neill took over. It would have also made Cattermole question his place in the side, and he is, when not diving in like a headless chicken or arguing with the ref, both a leader and a very good footballer. The only reasonable thing for O’Neill to do at the time of taking over was to keep Catts on as captain.
Even now that he has got his feet under the table, it would also be foolish for O’Neill to change the captaincy as a reaction to this one piece of stupidity. But questions must surely be asked about how much we would suffer with him out of the team. We do, after all, have plenty of cover in the central midfield area. Craig Gardner, who has recently been played in the unfamiliar right back role – in which he has excelled – and Sebastian Larsson are both Premier League regulars and offer the know-how that Cattermole does. David Vaughan, spectacular in his debut season for Blackpool, is capable of dictating the tempo of our game, getting the ball out quickly from midfield with a minimum of fuss, although he hasn’t shown it yet. Along with this, come our two, what some would call, wildcards. David Meyler and Jack Colback are both young players that offer the tenacity that has become Cattermole’s trademark without the hot-headedness that makes Catts such a liability.
Jack Colback is one in particular who I rate very highly, and he is possibly the best kept secret in the English game. Able to break up play and run for days, he is also one of the best at keeping the ball in tight areas. It seems bizarre to me, and an indictment of our national team’s scouting policy, that at a time when the world is focused on small players who can pick a pass, Colback was not called up to the England U21 squad, or more criminally, the Olympic Team GB squad. Especially when one takes into account the haste with which England and Manchester United are trying to shoehorn Tom Cleverley into that role. I have seen both Cleverley and Colback live regularly and must say that I’m glad we have the latter, rather than a player clearly trying everything just to keep his head afloat when playing for the national team and Manchester United (Moldova, a team ranked 141st in the world, aside). Colback can collect the football in any position, has two good feet and is able to set up attacks aswell as defend against them.
In the captaincy role, Sunderland also look well stocked for options. John O’Shea is the one that immediately springs to mind for his experience leading out the men from the Emerald Isles. Carlos Cuellar, Gardner, and Larsson could also foot the bill as men of experience. Stephane Sessengon is the one player that is guaranteed a spot in the team, so could be given that role without O’Neill having to explain it to anyone. Hell, if you want a nut case as Captain, albeit one that doesn’t get sent off, why not choose Phil Bardsley and be done with it?
Although I believe that Cattermole should just about retain his captaincy when he returns from suspension, it should not be his given right to immediately retain it. Especially if his occasional stupidity over shadows his all-around game, which on Tuesday it did. Over the remainder of the season, O’Neill will have to judge if Cattermole can be trusted to do this.
While some players are unfairly labelled as dangerous players and receive unfair dismissals, the same cannot be said for Lee Cattermole. It is now up to him to either reign in his reckless behaviour or move aside and let another 11 get on with it.