A couple of years ago, I took over as manager of Sunderland in Football Manager after they had been relegated from the Premier League.
Sunderland fans will be delighted to learn that I won the Championship and got the team straight back up, but they will probably not be surprised to learn that Lee Cattermole had a disciplinary problem in the game. After his third red card of the season, I politely asked him to stay on his feet more often, something that he reacted to negatively. So after he later picked up yet another red card, I lost my patience and transfer-listed him.
It seems like Football Manager has it just right when it comes to Lee Cattermole, and I wonder if he will ever learn. When Sunderland made the short trip to Newcastle for the Tyne-Tees derby on Sunday, the match was expected to be fiery. Lee Cattermole was certainly up for it, and received a yellow card in the first minute. After watching replays, it seemed that Cattermole was lucky to have only received a yellow, as it was a rather ugly lunge on Chiek Tiote that could have seriously injured the Newcastle midfielder.
While he managed to control himself for the rest of the game (and he was on the receiving end of a few tasty challenges), after Newcastle had scored a late equaliser and the final whistle went, Cattermole aired his grievances to referee Mike Riley. Riley tolerated it for a while, but eventually lost his patience and gave Cattermole a straight red card. It was the 6th red card Cattermole has received in his career, and it has lead to a 4 match ban, after he was already set to be suspended for 2 games, having reached 10 yellow cards for the season following his first minute foul.
There’s little doubt that Lee Cattermole is a talented player. He first broke into the Middlesbrough team as a 17 year old, and got attention after crying on the pitch during a 4-0 home defeat against Aston Villa. Discipline was always a problem for Cattermole, and his picked up 26 bookings in his three seasons with Middlesbrough, before Steve Bruce took him to Wigan in the summer of 2008. He was booked eleven times and received two red cards during his one and only season with Wigan, before he followed Bruce to Sunderland in August 2009. He’s had injury problems and suspensions during his time with Sunderland, but in the two and a bit seasons he’s been there, he’s managed to amass 28 yellow cards, and 4 reds. They’ve come in under 70 appearances, and it must be a constant source of frustration for Bruce and now Martin O’Neill that their captain can’t learn to control his discipline.
Cattermole has already been capped at 5 levels for England, playing for the under 21s until 2010. But he has yet to break into the full international squad, and his lack of discipline must be a big factor in that. He has had many impressive performances in a Sunderland shirt, and being made captain in his early 20s is a clear sign that he can be an inspirational player. But he can only be that if he’s on the pitch. Missing 5 or 6 games a season through suspension is going to hurt him and his team, and he’ll never fulfil his potential unless he can start making smarter decisions on the pitch.
Tackling in football is something that is under constant scrutiny, with the powers that be hammering down on tackles made with excessive force by out of control players. Cattermole has a bad habit of launching himself into tackles, something that can seriously injury opponents and will always result in at least a yellow card. It would be wrong to try and remove this aspect of his game entirely, as it would hurt him and Sunderland, but he has to pick his moments and stay on his feet more often. He should try and model his game on that of Scott Parker, a player who is not afraid of making a tackle, but has learned how to win the ball from opponents without going to ground. With Parker and Gareth Barry both the wrong side of 30, Cattermole could be England’s holding midfielder of the future, but that will only happen if he becomes a more disciplined player.
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