Bashing the 30-year-old was very much in vogue last season and, while many never expected it to be a permanent decline, I even wrote a post on how we could work around the Cattermole… problem.
Much like the club itself, the combative midfielder has faced adversity in recent years. Like the club, the man has looked out of his depth. Like the club, the man has seen his fans become disillusioned.
But like the club, something new is most certainly happening.
I don’t think yesterday’s performance was “vintage” Cattermole. It may upset you to hear that the stalwart didn’t grasp the game and pull strings in the midfield like we’ve seen before.
But that’s fine. We can no longer expect the same shin-bursting intensity that was once his yardstick.
While the popular comment “his legs have gone” is brainless and actually makes no sense, it’s time to expect him to play a different role within the team.
But what role is that? And what would work best? Excellent question - here’s our list of three possibilities:
Partner in crime (Ideal)
Face it, despite the man’s heroics yesterday, I don’t think we can justify Lee Cattermole as solo striker. Yet.
In the meantime, the best shout is to find a way to extend the good thing we’ve got for as long as possible. Alongside Max Power, the duo have become greater than the sum of their parts, and that’s a trend worth preserving.
But to stubbornly staple their names to the next few team sheets would be wrong. For one thing, the flurry of fixtures this season would have even Mo Farah breaking a serious sweat. For another it would keep player-of-the-season-to-be Dylan McGeouch out of the starting lineup.
Instead, if Jack Ross intends to stick with one man up top, rotating between the three central midfielders seems like a win/win/win.
It will take time, for the trio to scan for the same wavelength, but between Cattermole’s drive, Power’s athleticism, and McGeouch’s composure, Jack Ross can pick and choose the best combination depending on the opposition. While resting the third man.
England coach Eddie Jones got as many nods of approval as he did shrugs of confusion by the word. But when he made the distinction between “substitues” and “finishers” he made people rethink the power of the bench.
It’s unfair to expect Lee Cattermole to continue to pull off praiseworthy performances (and even harder to say), plus Jack Ross will most likely gravitate towards the midfield partnership he *chose* to bring in. But having a player of Catts’ skillset is a unique tactical opportunity.
The central midfielder can come on as either Jekyll or Hyde, depending on the words Ross pours in his ear as he jogs on.
Cattermole could be Sunderland’s answer to a “closer’ in baseball; if his brief is to slow the game down and see out the win then he’s equipped to do that.
Yet, at the same time, if Sunderland were behind and looked devoid of ideas, then suddenly there’d be a ready-made bomb primed for dropping. A footballer tried and tested in the art of making stuff happen.
Cattermole wouldn’t be just a useful option on the bench. He’d come on every match as a professional game-changer.
Andrés Iniesta (Wildcard)
Okay so maybe it’s unfair to mention the two in the same sentence, but if Lee Cattermole has a footballer pinned up on his bedroom wall, it should be Andrés Iniesta.
In the past it’s been suggested that the Englishman should take a leaf out of Sergio Busquets’ book and learn to how to make the area just outside the box a Bermuda Triangle for attackers. His lack of pace, combined with his ability to pick out a long range pass has also suggested that he may transition into an Andrea Pirlo sort of role.
But for Cattermole’s excellence, he is not immune to mistakes and with the centre-back situation behind him still looking fragile, there’s too much responsibility to place on someone so unpredictable. Should Ross decide to opt for one holding midfielder to screen the back four, that man becomes pivotal and will soon find himself in the crosshairs.
It makes sense, then, to divide the responsibilities of breaking up the play and orchestrating the attack between two players: namely, McGeouch and Cattermole.
Like Iniesta in a 4-1-2-3 formation, this would give Cattermole space to receive the pass and time to pick out his man. Pace would even become less of a factor and retiring at the hour mark would mean he could play the role with greater intensity.
I don’t know what Ross’ plans are for Sunderland’s newest (and yet oldest) hero, but so long as it’s a way of celebrating Cattermole’s talents as opposed to fitting him around other people, this could be the start of a thrilling second chapter.