Lee Cattermole has developed a reputation as a robust, tough-tackling, no nonsense central midfielder. In fact, he has built a career around it. But with Sunderland manager Steve Bruce having to withdraw him from the pitch for fear he may end up being sent off against bitter rivals Newcastle on Sunday, just days after Cattermole expressing his devastation at having been sent off twice already this season, is it time for the 22 year-old to grow up and realise his undoubted potential?
Finding a mentor in former Sunderland captain and assistant director at the club’s academy, Kevin Ball, Cattermole bemoaned the lack of challenges in the modern game;
‘When I was suspended, he sat next to me and we were chatting through the games about different incidents, what went on in his day and now. Like me, he thinks it’s a shame that tackling is disappearing as an art.’
‘I don’t think the game is competitive at all. I’ve heard people say that up here a good tackle can be cheered as loudly as a goal. I can relate to that. When you get one right, the crowd let you know it.’
I for one am not one of the brigade calling for the heads of players like Cattermole, Nigel de Jong, Karl Henry and Joey Barton. I believe tackling is a huge part of the game, it is a contact sport, after all. However, alongside tough tackling there must be restraint, and this is something Cattermole needs to apply to his game if he is to become the player he showed signs of becoming from an early age.
Some would say the problem with a player like Cattermole is if you dull his desire, passion and competitive edge, you cancel out his effectiveness as a player, but I would have to disagree. Showing restraint is about making the correct decisions, not holding back in challenges. Cattermole has been sent off twice this season because of making poor decisions when going in for tackles.
Against Wigan he was sent off after 22 minutes for a second bookable offence for a challenge where he was never going to win the ball against Hugo Rodallega. The challenge was not particularly dangerous, but was made without any consideration of the situation or consequences. He was already on a yellow and as the game was less than a quarter old, with the scores poised at 0-0, it was not the time to make a rash tackle. Even if he didn’t make the challenge and Rodallega went on to score, Sunderland would have been far better served with 11 men on the field.
At Birmingham on the opening day of the season, he was again dismissed before half-time, this time with his side one goal to the good. Having escaped punishment for an elbow on Gary O’Connor, Cattermole then went in for a reckless challenge on Cameron Jerome, followed, just before half-time, by an unceremonious clattering of Lee Bowyer from behind, seemingly again, without any consideration for the situation or the consequences of another tackle he was never going to win.
With Cattermole’s substitution in a heated Tyne-Wear derby, what is also clear is that Steve Bruce does not trust his captain’s judgement. The 22 year-old claimed that;
‘Since serving my ban I’ve barely committed any fouls. I’m not counting, but it’s not many. I’m working on it, but I think if you’re a midfielder and you’re not making a tackle, you’re not doing your job properly.’
So with his manager unconvinced, and his performances suggesting he hasn’t learnt much. Cattermole will have to realise quickly that you cannot win every tackle, and if you try, you will undoubtedly receive your marching orders. If he doesn’t sort this facet of his game out soon, he may find himself labelled as a reckless liability and placed on the footballing scrapheap of what-might-have-beens.