EVER since Lee Cattermole signed for Sunderland four years ago, his career on Wearside has been a roller-coaster.
Far too often, he’s either been missing through suspension or his inability to stay injury-free, and that has divided opinion among fans.
He has been unable to string a regular run of games together and it’s prevented him showing the consistency needed and lessened his impact.
However, I’m in the pro-Cattermole camp. Looking at all the players Sunderland have in their squad right now, if I’m picking the team, he’s in it.
His critics will point to the fact that he doesn’t score goals and rarely makes assists; both valid points and areas of his game that he can improve.
But that’s not really his role in the team.
His job is to protect the back four, break up the play and lay a platform for our attackers to go forward.
This is what he’s done so well in the last two games, where in my opinion he has been Sunderland’s stand-out player.
He still wasn’t 100 per cent fit either against Liverpool or Man United.
That’s what I was impressed about. At Swansea on Saturday, he will be nearing full fitness. He’s had three games and had two weeks break, which he will benefit from.
Before Cattermole’s comeback, Sunderland’s back four had been totally exposed due to a nonexistent midfield, but since his return, there’s now a presence that was previously lacking.
There was obviously a breakdown in his relationship with Paolo Di Canio and he must have thought he was on his way out when he was stripped of the captaincy and his own squad number in the summer.
But he has survived, out-lasted Di Canio and finds himself back in the team with a key role to play.
Cattermole could be one of our most important players in the next critical couple of months.
When he’s at his best, he can drive the team on and energise others around him with his determination and desire.
The key to all this though is his fitness.
He is one of those players who needs to be at his physical peak to produce his best form.
I remember the game against QPR under Martin O’Neill when Cattermole came back too early from injury and was clearly struggling before being subbed in the first 10 minutes.
It was a gamble that failed and even though he was trying to help out the team, it ultimately did him no favours after leading to another lengthy absence.
If Cattermole can get into the rhythm of playing every week, we’ll see the best of him and at his age, he should be coming towards his peak.