It was clear the moment Monsieur Salut nominated Lee Cattermole as Sunderland’s player of the season so far (at ESPN: see http://www.espnfc.com/barclays-premier-league/23/blog/post/2129545/the-best-20-premier-league-players-so-far-this-season) that the North East’s football writers would feel obliged to follow suit. In fact, they’ve gone one step beyond and made him their player of 2014. Pete Sixsmith discusses a top three selection with a distinctly Sunderland flavour …
Let’s do it Eric Morley style:
“And in third place, a product of the Sunderland Academy, former first team player, Ipswich Town star and current top scorer at high flying Championship club Middlesbrough, GRANT LEADBITTER.”
“In second place, a product of the Sunderland Academy, former first team player and current Newcastle United man, let’s hear it for JACK COLBACK”.
“And the winner of the prestigious North Eastern Player of the Year, voted on by the men and women of the sporting press here between the banks of the Tees and the Tweed is a product of the Middlesbrough Academy, a former Wigan Athletic player and a Sunderland player for the last five years, LEE CATTERMOLE”.
That a player who has been vilified by the press and supporters over the five seasons he has been at the Stadium of Light can win their ultimate award indicates one of two things: there is a paucity of outstanding candidates or Cattermole has lost the “l” that came between the first two letters of his name and has become a combative and highly competent player. I’ll take a bit of each.
He becomes the third Sunderland player to win it in the last five years, following on from Darren Bent and Simon Mignolet and, as a North Easterner (as were the runners up), it shows that we can still produce top class players in the region.
Mind you, if, 12 months ago, anyone had said to me or any other of the 40,000 regulars at the SoL that Cattermole would have won this trophy, I would have given a Timothy Spall like snort of derision and walked away.
Cattermole had a poor disciplinary record, was error prone, looked even less likely to score than Danny Graham and was involved in a series of unsavoury incidents off the field. He even led Nicholas Bendtner astray, for goodness sake.
I once described him as a “guttersnipe” when he was sent off against us while he was playing for Wigan and I was not impressed when Steve Bruce made him one of his first signings on switching from pie land to pease pudding land.
He continued to get booked with monotonous regularity, was sent off on seven occasions, the last being that dreadful tackle on former team mate Ahmed Elmohamady at Hull City a year ago.
Many thought that that was the time to ditch him – Paolo Di Canio had no time for the former England Under 21 captain – and it looked as if he was on his way to Stoke in January as Liam Bridcutt was brought in as a replacement.
But Poyet pulled the deal and clearly believed in the strengths and virtues of Cattermole; consequently he played a major part on the Road to Wembley and also in the successful fight to avoid relegation.
That he did this without compromising his robust style of play is a credit to him and his manager. He began to think about his tackles and stopped jumping in. He seemed to realise that the ball could be won in ways other than going in as if he was playing on the local rec in his native Stockton. Sometimes it was better to harass an opponent into giving the ball away than dumping him on his backside.
He has even started to score goals. Never prolific at his former clubs, his first came in that awful defeat at Spurs, his second at the Hawthorns at the start of this season – and that one was a real gem. Shows what he can do.
The award is a tribute to his tenacious qualities. He will never be an international player and he will never reach the giddy heights of Champions League football. He is very much an English player – some skill, a lot of heart and a fierce passion that too often subsumes his footballing ability.
It is to be hoped that this award spurs him on to bigger and better things with Sunderland – but after Liam Bridcutt’s assured performance on Sunday, will he regain his place at Leicester a week on Saturday?
We shall see.