In defence of Lee Cattermole

by James Hunt

Few events in football unite ‘neutrals’ more than a Lee Cattermole red card.

There have not been many players, certainly in recent years, as vilified by fans of other clubs than Sunderland’s skipper, whose reputation as being dirty surpasses even Christina Aguilera’s.

As far as Sunderland fans go, it’s somewhat more divisive. Some believe the criticism is completely unjust, and that there’s a witch-hunt of sorts; some believe he should be stripped of the captaincy, but retain his place in the side – feeling he’ll be better without the burden the armband brings; some believe he should be out of the team and out of the club at the earliest opportunity.

Since his arrival at Sunderland in the summer of 2009, ‘Catts’ has been sent off five times. Of those red cards, three have been for two yellow cards, one was for dissent, and only his most recent – against MK Dons on Tuesday night – was a straight red for a reckless challenge.

In terms of fouls, he committed, on average, 2.2 per Premier League game last season. A high amount, yes, but actually fourth in the league behind Marouane Fellaini, Grant Holt and Cheik Tiote – none of whom are considered as ‘dirty’ as Cattermole.

Furthermore, he averaged 3.7 successful tackles per game, the joint-second highest in the league, above all three of the players mentioned above. He was also second highest in the league in terms of interceptions.

His detractors will also point to his supposed lack of passing ability, with the notion that he is incapable of playing the ball more than five yards, and even then less than successfully.

Last year, he completed an average of 37.3 passes per game, with a completion rate of 81.4%. It may not be Xavi, but it’s by no means bad. He also played 3.9 accurate long balls per game. Xabi Alonso he isn’t, but the idea that he can’t pass – be it short or long – is somewhat unfounded.

This season, although it is a relatively small sample of games thus far, shows that his pass completion has improved to 84.6% (although his passes per game has fallen to 26) and his fouls have decreased to 1.5. That shows a player who is improving and maturing, and his performances on the pitch – essentially since Martin O’Neill arrived – have shown just that.

Arguably the final area of his game that comes under scrutiny is the lack of attacking threat he provides. He is yet to score a goal for Sunderland, and offers very little from set pieces.

However, he is a holding midfielder. His job is to tackle, break up play and pass, all of which the stats show he is doing successfully. It’d be nice if he got the odd goal, but it would simply be a bonus. After all, Claude Makelele, the man who defined the defensive midfielder role so much it’s basically named after him, only scored twice in 144 league appearances for Chelsea. Cattermole isn’t Makelele, of course, but you can see my point.

When he makes poor tackles and gets sent off, such as against MK Dons, it is extremely frustrating. The Newcastle game last season – booked in the first minute, outstanding for the following 90, sent off AFTER the final whistle for dissent – almost sums him up perfectly. However, the latter of those, at least, is becoming an increasingly irregular occurrence. His leadership skills continue to improve, and he does seem to be recognised by his teammates as the natural leader of this group of players.

Fouls and cards are part and parcel of the position in which he plays. He can have moments of rashness – and, as mentioned, these are becoming less frequent – but I don’t think there can be much doubt Sunderland are a better side with him in it.

*Stats used a taken from WhoScored.com.

2 Responses

  1. Daveyhardy says:

    Excellent, balanced, informative article revealing some surprising facts about Catt’s game.

    1. James says:

      Cheers. Think he’s – rightly or wrongly – got a reputation due to some bad tackles and red cards, and people are very quick to write him as that ‘type’ of player. Some criticism he deserves, and brings on himself, but much of it is unfair and there’s a lot more to his game than fouls.

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