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Cattermole gearing up for a Wear-Tyne derby he felt he would miss
FOR much of the summer, Lee Cattermole could typically be seen demanding more from the players around him on the training ground at the Academy of Light.
But Sunderland's manager at the time, Paolo Di Canio, was nowhere to be seen.
Di Canio was working on pre-season preparations with the first team, while the club's younger players shared a pitch with last season's captain who had been told to train with Kevin Ball's Under-21s.
As Cattermole sat relaxed on a high stool after his latest training session on Thursday, he explained how happy he is to be back where he belongs. Even when the topic of Di Canio came up in conversation, he was fine to talk.
Times have moved on at the Stadium of Light and Cattermole, who has been impressed with the first impressions of new boss Gus Poyet, is keen to get back to what he enjoys doing best: Playing football.
“I came very close to leaving a couple of times,” said Cattermole, whose influence in the dressing room was not liked by Di Canio.
“For whatever reason it didn’t happen. The way it was going I would have left happily. I wasn’t part of the manager’s plans and that can happen in football, but I’m here and while I’m a Sunderland player I’ll give everything for the cause to get us out of trouble.
“Things happened in the summer and there were a lot of things I was disappointed with from the club in terms of the way I was treated. I understand that is football, but there are ways of doing things. All you ever want is a bit of respect and Kevin Ball gave me that straight away.”
Whatever Di Canio thought of Cattermole is immaterial now. As soon as the Italian left, Ball remembered what the midfielder had been like under his watch and immediately recalled him to the first team stage when afforded caretaker responsibility.
Cattermole has started every game since, including Poyet's first match in charge at Swansea City a week ago, and he admits there was a time during the summer when he felt his time on Wearside was up.
“I spoke to friends in the game,” said Cattermole. “Colin Cooper, the Hartlepool manager, spoke to me at a behind-closed-doors game up here. I spoke to a lot of people and can't really tell you what the conversations were.
“Colin Cooper joked you can always get a game with us … and I nearly took it! I just wanted to play football. If you are playing, winning, you are happy. I wasn't playing so I wasn't happy. I just kept working hard.”
Yet despite all of the obvious frustrations he must have felt during the last six months, Cattermole will be a vital component of the Sunderland team when rivals Newcastle United pay a visit to Wearside tomorrow.
His fully-committed approach is exactly what a team requires on derby day and, for a player who has had his fair share of disciplinary problems in the past, he actually thinks the Di Canio era has made him an improved individual.
Cattermole said: “I am more mature now, 100 per cent. The summer was a massive learning curve for me. It is the first time I have not been wanted my a manager.
“I turned round and I was quite happy with how I dealt with it. I kept my mouth shut. I kept my head down.
“The only thing I could affect was what happened if I got my chance. I kept training each day. A lot of the time I was running on my own. I think I'm fit but I need more games, match time.”
Without really wanting to dwell on Di Canio too much, Cattermole thinks the arrival of Poyet can only benefit the whole squad in the long run as Sunderland press to survive in the Premier League.
He said: “I believe in the new manager who has come in. Anyone who speaks to him, he is unbelievably intelligent on football, but you are asking a guy who has been here for two weeks and who has worked with the players for a few days because of the international break to turn things around. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Poyet must try to turn around the fortunes of a squad including 14 summer arrivals in a relatively short space of time, given how Sunderland have only managed one point from the first 24 available in the league.
Cattermole is convinced suggestions the new players are not good enough to deliver are false. He said: “I honestly do think the quality is there in the squad.
“Have we proved it? Not yet, no. Have we proved we are good enough to stay in this league? No. And that's something we have to do. Some of the players who have been brought in have not been given a chance yet but I know they are itching to get a chance to play and show why the club has brought them here.”
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