PAOLO Di Canio has opened the door to a first-team return for Lee Cattermole if the former skipper does not leave in the current transfer window.
The central midfielder was told at the start of the summer by Di Canio that he could go if the right bid came in for him.
But so far a suitable offer has yet to materialise and with Cattermole’s future now very much up in the air, the Italian head coach has made it clear that the Teessider will not be ostracised if he stays at the Stadium of Light.
Cattermole was a favourite of former managers Steve Bruce and Martin O’Neill but has been unable to find a role under Di Canio’s stricter, less forgiving regime and was expected to be one of the first players out of the door at Sunderland during the close season.
The ex-skipper was injured on Di Canio’s arrival and has subsequently picked up a minor knock and with his poor injury and disciplinary record, as well as his high wages, Sunderland have not found anyone willing to take a risk on him
There’s no doubt it has been a testing time for the 25-year-old, a £6m signing from Wigan Athletic in 2009.
But he will have been boosted by Di Canio’s insistence that he might still have a future at Sunderland.
“There was a chance Cattermole would move somewhere,” revealed the Italian. “It didn’t happen, for different reasons, we can’t say why, it’s between the club and the player.
“Now he’s working. He had a problem last week in the Under-21s and now he’s in recovery.
“At the beginning he wasn’t fit and he hasn’t trained with us yet but now we are waiting to see what is going on. If at the end of the window, he’s gone, he’s gone. If he stays, we are going to work on him.”
Should Cattermole stay, he would have to buy into Di Canio’s vision of how a modern-day footballer prepares and trains.
But if the two could reach an understanding, Cattermole’s progress could be intriguing.
Once on Liverpool’s radar and talked about as a potential England player, the ex-skipper’s career has stalled over the last couple of seasons.
But if Di Canio could get him to the sort of fitness levels he needs to produce his best game, Sunderland could have a real player on their hands again.
It was thought when the new squad numbers came out and Cattermole had been “demoted” from six to 33 that that was a signal he was on his way out, but Di Canio has rubbished that idea.
“The squad numbers are decided by the players,” he said. “They have a meeting to decide, have six, have 10, have nine, I don’t go in. It belongs to them. As I have always said I don’t invade their area which is the dressing room. It is their kingdom.
“I was a footballer, I know what it means. I can have a joke from the corridor but not go inside because this is their private way. It’s exactly the same with the numbers. Sometimes they have a 50-50 with a number and they put money for charity, this is the way, but this is not my decision.”