Candid Lee Cattermole opens up on his Sunderland revival, reveals inside track on last summer and why Jack Ross deserves trophy success
Following successive relegations, it was widely expected Lee Cattermole would move on as Sunderland rebuilt in League One.
The experienced midfielder, among the club’s highest earners, was subject to intense speculation but he remained on Wearside and his Sunderland career has since been revitalised under Jack Ross.
And the 31-year-old has heaped praise on the Scot, labelling him one of the best he has worked under ahead of the Checkatrade Trophy Wembley final against Portsmouth.
Cattermole, who has spoken candidly about his experiences at Sunderland over the last 24-months, is keen for Ross to be rewarded for his impact by lifting the trophy.
After a turbulent couple of seasons, Cattermole is enjoying his football again.
“I hope we get him the rewards he deserves,” said Cattermole, reflecting on the job done by Ross.
“What he has done since pre-season, from the squad we had, we all remember the Darlington and Hartlepool games and had to go and get players and sort out what we had here.
“The lads have really bought into what he wanted, him and his staff.
“He has handled everything well and been consistent with his messages.
“I don’t think people always realise how big this club is until they come here, players and managers.
“Hopefully through the rest of the season we get the rewards he deserves.
“He has made a lot of players happy and enjoying their football again.
“I have rated all of the managers I have had, they have all brought different things.
“You want the squad to deal with the manager’s decisions and when the manager makes decisions and the team doesn’t win squads can get broken quite quickly.
“We have been in some tough positions, we played in the Premier League for a long time, top level football, you look at the other clubs who have struggled since.
“Jack Ross is right up there with them all, he brings a fresh, younger approach, he is very hands on, out on the training pitch.
“Little things, like cleaning the dugouts and the dressing rooms at every ground before we leave.
“Little things people don’t notice, we have always left every ground tidy. That doesn’t always happen, when other clubs come to our stadium.
“We go to stadiums and they think ‘the big shots are in town’ but we have always treated everywhere really respectfully and that comes from the manager down.”
Relegation from the Premier League hurt Cattermole the most, unhappy with the manner in which the club gave up their top flight status.
Another relegation followed twelve months later, this time to the third tier for only the second time in the club’s history.
Cattermole said: “We had given so much for a few years, I missed a lot of that season through injury and I didn’t like the manner in which we left the Premier League.
“We didn’t really give a fight as we had in previous years but you can’t put your finger on any of that, you have to deal with it.
“Maybe we didn’t deal with it as well last year but I still believe we are a better team than we finished last year.
“There was a lot of times in games you are playing well but then had a knack of conceding, whether it was the mentality not right in the group but this year, how many times has it gone the other way?
“I am feeling in a much better place, the determination is there to win games and I’m enjoying it.
“That is from the manager and his staff.
“Everything they have done is about creating a new culture. We have been rewarded now with a trip to Wembley.”
Cattermole added: “Looking back now, how I feel this season compared to last season it obviously affected me a lot more than I thought at the time.
“I was still trying but was my heart really flat out in it? I’m not sure given how I feel now, how determined I feel now.
“I feel now like I did when we were fighting to stay up, a good feeling to have as if you put your mind to it you really get things done.
“I feel really good. We all get affected by things that mean a lot to us.
“I have always really cared about my football and never been one to sit there and accept things if they are not going right, I try and change things.
“Sometimes they work for you, sometimes you get egg on your face but I would rather go down fighting.”
There was rumoured interest in Cattermole last summer from Hull City and Stoke City also offered a late escape route.
But a move away from Wearside never materialised. And Cattermole has become a key figure under Ross, also adding goals to his game with six so far, his best return yet.
Last summer, his future was very much up in the air, as we approach the end of the season he is a key figure again. An incredible turnaround.
Cattermole said: “I have always just been very honest. [Last summer] I spoke to the club in depth about it and tried to give them as honest an opinion as I could on how I felt about my situation.
“From day one I told them how I felt. We both tried to make something work. It didn’t work, so as soon as that window shut then I cracked on.
“From the moment I went back in I showed everyone I am fully committed. I don’t think I ever wasn’t fully committed but if you look at the squad as a whole it is very hard to be fully committed when you are doing a lot of work and things are falling apart around you.
“It is nice to know we have pulled through but again the manager has set the tone from day one.
“I could see he was creating something, I was really enjoying training, that is a good sign.
“If all the boys feel like that you are going to get rewards on a Saturday. This is another learning curve for me in my career.
“I have been to a lot of new stadiums, new style of football, I am learning on the job again. I never felt like I shouldn’t have been here.
“There are a lot of good players in this league, we have seen that, we haven’t had any easy games all season. I have really enjoyed it.”
Sunderland last played at Wembley five years ago in the League Cup final against Manchester City, Gus Poyet’s side beaten 3-1.
Poyet’s departure saddened Cattermole, who has certainly seen his fair share of managers at the Stadium of Light, ten not including caretakers.
Cattermole said: “That was the one that hurt me, I loved playing under Gus. I learned my role and improved as a player, my understanding, made me feel totally different on the pitch to how I had in the past.
“I signed a contract, you think everything will stay the same, but then out of your control things change.
“That is where it is quite frustrating. I think we were onto something good then, we had something good going on.
“Who knows why things change, they just do.”
Cattermole, whose future will inevitably be the subject of speculation every transfer window, is determined to lead Sunderland back to the Championship this season.
“Definitely. Obviously this year the challenge is on track for us, but then we don’t want to get away from that.
“We have ten games to go. My focus has to just be completely on that. You need to put all your energy into that.
“Where we go from there, who knows but I feel determined to get back for myself personally and for the club.”