LEE Cattermole faces a pivotal campaign in his Sunderland career after being dogged by injury since arriving on Wearside.
That’s the view of Black Cats boss Steve Bruce as his skipper bids to complete his first full pre-season in Sunderland colours.
While discussion of Cattermole this summer has centred around false reports of a move to Liverpool and his position as Sunderland captain, Bruce has been focused on getting the midfielder in peak condition.
The 23-year-old saw his first year on Wearside hampered by a knee injury, which Bruce believes led to the back problem that saw the ex-Middlesbrough man sidelined for three months last season.
Cattermole was also affected by the knee injury during pre-season last year and missed the pivotal period 12 months earlier after being given extra time off following his exertions for England in the U21 European Championships.
But with Cattermole reporting for duty a week ahead of his team-mates and looking sharp during Sunderland’s pre-season outings, Bruce hopes the worst is behind the fiercely combative midfielder.
Bruce told the Echo: “It’s a big year for Lee. He had a wonderful start to his Sunderland career and then he got that knee injury.
“Last year, he started off again and picked up another injury. But make no mistake, we’re a better team when he’s around.
“It’s the first time in his career when he’s had a bit of a problem and it does become a problem.
“Once you’ve had a serious injury like a knee, then you see people doing their groin or back. Subconsciously, you’re carrying something and it’s the same with Michael Turner, Titus Bramble, David Meyler and Fraizer Campbell.
“They’ve all had trauma injuries which are difficult to get over.”
Sunderland were able to brush off continued speculation over the summer that Cattermole was a target for Liverpool, with the discussions between the clubs limited to Jordan Henderson.
But Bruce was forced to speak to Cattermole after reports appeared in the national press earlier this month stating the former Wigan player was set to lose the captaincy in favour of new signing John O’Shea.
The Sunderland boss denounced the story as “mischief-making” during the club’s pre-season tour of Germany and today reiterated his stance that the captaincy is not an issue he has even considered.
Cattermole undoubtedly remains one of the most vocal and influential figures in the Sunderland dressing room after being handed the armband 12 months ago.
“I have to say the story has caused me all sorts of grief because I haven’t even broached it and that’s the God’s honest truth,” added Bruce.
“The most important thing for me is to get everyone fit and then I’ll look at that, if there is something to be looked at.”