Friday spotlight: The answer to Sunderland boss Di Canio’s search might be right in front of him

Lee Cattermole (right) - injured and out of the first-team picture - watches Sunderland U21s in action alongside Hartlepool boss Colin Cooper
Lee Cattermole (right) - injured and out of the first-team picture - watches Sunderland U21s in action alongside Hartlepool boss Colin Cooper
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LESS than 10 days to go to the transfer window closing and Sunderland is in thrall to Paolo Di Canio’s pursuit of “an experienced English creative midfielder with a physical presence who can pass the ball well.”

It’s such a specific description that the Italian has given to his countryman, chief scout Valentino Angeloni, that it feels a bit like charades where you have to guess the person he clearly seems to have in mind.

But now the obvious candidate has gone – the Echo revealed the answer to the question was Tom Huddlestone back in June – everyone is scratching their heads wondering who he or Angeloni could possibly go after.

Firstly, there are so very few of those sort of players around.

Secondly, even if you do find one, they are probably way out of Sunderland’s price range.

So allow me to make a humble suggestion, if I may.

I know where Sunderland can get a player who ticks almost every box for the Black Cats.

And the best news of all? They can get him for nothing!

English? Check.

Central midfielder? Check.

Physical presence? Check.

A natural leader? Check.

And OK, passing the ball and creating are not his strongest points, but, when fully fit, he has the capacity to do both.

Ladies and gentleman, please step forward ... Lee Cattermole.

I’ve paused at that point so that many of you can either lift your jaw back up or stop rolling on the floor laughing.

But consider for a moment.

Cattermole’s reputation, like Phil Bardsley’s – but not to the same extent – seems to have gone down the pan since the Italian arrived to espouse a radically different form of professionalism and discipline than the Teessider has ever known.

By all account it has not been a meeting of minds.

Cattermole seems to be perceived as old school and has been neglected so much that while his team-mates were out in Denmark facing league leaders Midtjylland earlier this month, the only opposition the ex-skipper was wrestling with were the holes on Close House golf course in Northumberland.

It does not seem like a situation which is easy to retrieve.

But Di Canio – too easy to portray as extreme and unyielding – has already shown the capacity to do a U-turn – witness Wes Brown,

The Italian believed the injury-jinxed former Manchester United defender had no part to play in his plans and was prepared to tell Brown that to his face.

But the ex-England international got his head down in training, tried so hard and impressed so much that he changed his boss’s mind.

The Cattermole situation is more complex – it requires a double U-turn: one on behalf of the manager; one on behalf of the player.

But if pragmatism reigns and common sense takes over, then it could well be in the interests of both men – not to mention Sunderland Football Club.

It is not too long ago that Steve Bruce was describing Cattermole as one of the best players of his type – an aggressive, influential midfielder – in the country. Not too long ago that Martin O’Neill said that the former Middlesbrough and Wigan man could be pushing for inclusion in the England squad if he could stay fit and keep his nose clean.

Those last two caveats from O’Neill have proven beyond the Teessider so far, but, at 25 years old, he is still young enough to come again, still young enough to be moulded.

After the non-pre-season he has had, Catts is going to be well short of the fitness required, but Di Canio and his coaching staff are experts on fitness.

And when fully fit and functioning, Sunderland fans have seen plenty of evidence of Cattermole’s good qualities.

He is the best tackler in the squad, he is its most natural leader and if you’re looking for physical presence, he has it in abundance.

These are the sort of qualities Di Canio will absolutely need if he is to bring balance to a side he wants to play with two out-and-out attacking wingers.

And if Cattermole gets fully fit, his disciplinary record improves because he is not stretching for the challenge or getting frustrated and he also has more time to make the most of his often under-rated passing ability.

Wishful thinking that peace may break out and there may be a happy ending to all this?


But it would be to the credit of both men to consider it.

And Di Canio has publicly stated that, when the window closes, he will genuinely look to involve every member of his squad who remains.

In the meantime, the search goes on, with Swansea’s South Korean central midfielder Ki Seung-Yeung newly linked with a move yesterday.

But if the window snaps shut with that key player not found, Di Canio could do worse than taking on a challenge genuinely worthy of him – bringing out the best in Cattermole.

It might just make all the difference to Sunderland’s season.

Twitter @sunechograeme