For now there is no one better suited for the Sunderland captaincy than Lee Cattermole.
Often mocked outside of Wearside for his poor disciplinary record, what’s often lost on fans outside the Stadium of Light is Cattermole’s talent. The 24-year-old is constantly improving and acts as a driving force and leader at Sunderland.
One of the main reasons Cattermole will retain the armband is there is no other obvious candidate for the captaincy. The Black Cats’ most talented players are out of sorts and struggling and don’t need any extra-pressure. Stephane Sessegnon and Adam Johnson both need to concentrate solely on their games to right the poor early form they’ve displayed this season. While neither are particularly known for their loud and influential on pitch persona.
John O’Shea has acted as captain in Cattermole’s absence; the Irishman has a wealth of experience to use in this role and often leads by example with solid if unspectacular performances. As the player with the most experience at the highest level, it is unlikely to cause much discontent with either fans or in the dressing room should he be given the role permanently. However his performances lack the inspirational edge of Cattermole, who can excite a crowd by pressing a ball or with his committed tackles. O’Shea’s game is more based around being solid and consistent and this doesn’t inspire me into thinking he is captaincy material.
Craig Gardner took over the role when Cattermole was dismissed in the League Cup this season. The 25-year-old plays with the same commitment and tenacity as Cattermole, but cannot be captain in my opinion, because he isn’t a guaranteed starter. The ex-Birmingham City man is likely to lose his spot at right back to Phil Bardsley and also has no guarantee of getting his place in central midfield back. In my opinion Cattermole, Jack Colback and David Vaughan were all more impressive in central midfield than Gardner last year.
I always believe a captain should be one of the first names on a teamsheet and somebody who has become a certainty in the Sunderland line-up is Simon Mignolet. The Belgian has developed into a very good goalkeeper, and wowed fans across the country with some spectacular saves this year. Two that stand out include a full stretch effort against, West Ham and an early front-runner for save of the season at home to Wigan Athletic. However I’m not convinced Mignolet is as confident and dominant a personality as other goalkeepers who have excelled as captain. I’m not sure yet, that the 24-year-old inspires the same level of confidence as Iker Casillas or Joe Hart do and I would rather let him focus on maturing and improving, than make him captain.
The final thing to address in terms of the Cattermole captaincy debate is how much of a liability is the Sunderland man to his teammates. His two red cards at the start of the 2010/2011 season were frustrating but since those pitiful dismissals, he has only seen red twice for Sunderland, and five times in total. Now while his stupidity in the North East derby last season was spectacular he was far from the only one on either side to react to the poisonous atmosphere that day. His overly aggressive performance arguably helped Sunderland in that game as a nervous Newcastle were rattled and underperformed until Sessegnon saw red.
It is also worth mentioning two of the most famous captains in English football since the conception of the Premier League, Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane, and the fact that they were hardly saints. Vieira saw red 13 times in his career and Keane managed 11 dismissals at Manchester United and yet to my memory nobody questioned the risk of giving either of them the armband. For better or worse Cattermole will never eliminate the part of his game which sees him overreact or fail to withdraw from a tackle, but for the time being he is Sunderland’s natural leader, and a player who Sunderland play better with, than without. So to publicly strip him of the armband would be incredibly hasty as Sunderland need him reach their aspirations this season.
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