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Cattermole's return could be key to transforming Sunderland's season
WHAT will be the key to turning Sunderland's season around?
The dismissal of Paolo Di Canio? The appointment of Gustavo Poyet as his successor? Both key developments undoubtedly. But according to Craig Gardner, the return of skipper Lee Cattermole could be even more influential in terms of hauling the Black Cats from the foot of the Premier League.
Ostracised under Di Canio, Cattermole started all three of caretaker manager Kevin Ball's matches in charge of Sunderland's first team, restoring some much-needed stability to the base of his side's midfield.
On the pitch, the Teessider provides the kind of combative presence that could be crucial in Saturday's testing trip to Swansea, not the mention the small matter of the following weekend's pivotal Wear-Tyne derby with Newcastle United.
And away from the field of play, while Di Canio clearly had his doubts about Cattermole's personality and temperament, his team-mates are thoroughly appreciative of his leadership qualities.
“Catts is Catts,” said Gardner, who moved out of the full-back berth to play alongside Cattermole in midfield during Sunderland's most recent 2-1 defeat to Manchester United. “You know what you're going to get every single game.
“He's going to work hard, run about, put tackles in. He's just a great player to have back in the team and on the training field as well.
“The atmosphere around the place is brilliant right now and the lads in the changing room are buzzing, it's been a total 360. Everyone's really, really into it, and we can't wait to get out there.”
While Poyet has arrived at the Stadium of Light with a reputation for attractive, passing football, the Uruguayan has already accepted that Sunderland's pressing need for points could demand a more prosaic approach in the next few matches.
Character will be as important as comfort in possession, and while both Cattermole and Phil Bardsley were banished from the first-team squad under Di Canio, it would not be a surprise to see the duo both featuring in the squad that travels to south Wales later this week.
Gardner is another player who tends to wear his heart on his sleeve, and while the arrival of so many overseas players has changed the face of the Sunderland squad, the club's English core will play a crucial role as Poyet attempts to steady the ship in his first few weeks in charge.
“If you don't know me, you should know what I'm about,” said Gardner. “Whatever position I play in, I just want to be on that pitch. Hopefully, I can be on that pitch and it doesn't matter where I'm playing.
“You'll never see anything less than 100 per cent from me. If I see fans in the street or a restaurant, I'll always stop and shake their hand, let them take a picture, give an autograph.
“You'll never see me turning my back on them. They pay their money to come and watch us, so you've got to give something back to them.”
Forging a team spirit among so many new arrivals is another challenge facing Poyet, but his task should be aided by the relish with which the majority of Sunderland's new signings have tackled the task of learning English.
The new Black Cats boss has already warned his players that he will not tolerate a host of different languages on the training ground, and most of this summer's signings have already made progress with their language lessons.
“The lads have come in and hit the ground running in training,” said Gardner. “It's obviously difficult for them because a lot of them don't speak English, but they're learning every single day.
“They come in and they're asking the lads, 'What does this mean?' They're picking it up now. (Emanuele) Giaccherini is working really hard on his English, and he's talking a lot more fluently now.
“Everyone's helping and the lads are getting behind each other, and helping the foreign lads to settle. That's what we need.”
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