Why Lee Cattermole left Sunderland, what it means and what comes next for him and the club

Sunderland have announced the shock departure of long-serving midfielder Lee Cattermole.

Tuesday, 2nd July 2019, 8:25 am
Lee Cattermole has left Sunderland after ten years
Lee Cattermole has left Sunderland after ten years

The popular figure leaves having played well over 200 league games.

So what happened and what comes next, for both the club and the midfielder? We take a closer look…..

The reasons

Cattermole’s drive and determination throughout the last campaign won many admirers, and the depth of respect he built with Jack Ross was obvious.

The desire to get the Black Cats back into the second tier was never in doubt and the hurt of falling just short immense.

Before that play-off final, Cattermole spoke of watching these high -ressure games in recent years and thinking how cathartic and buoyant it would be to win one.

On the other side of the coin, how utterly draining it would be to lose one.It had been a long, hard campaign following two tumultuous relegations. In ten years on Wearside Cattermole had seen it all.

There is absolutely no doubt that had he stayed, the 31-year-old would have contributed next season, but the sense was of the need for a fresh start and a new challenge.

The midfielder spoke often of being fitter and sharper than he had been for years, finally coming hrough the chronic pain he played through for so long in the name of Premier League survival.

He evidently felt he still had much to give at a higher level and this may be his last chance to prove it.

The financial burden this eases on Sunderland is obvious.

Last season, there was much talk of budget and how the Black Cats were well ahead of any side who had ever played in the division.

That was true, but the more complex reality was that a very small cohort of players were accomodating for the vast majority of that. Generally speaking, Sunderland were paying upper League One players upper League One wages.

Adam Matthews was the first of those higher earners to leave, Cattermole the next.

It would not be a surprise if at some stage in the near future, Bryan Oviedo departed in some capacity.

The failure to get out of League One was always going to demand some financial rebalancing, takeover or no takeover.

Only Donald Love, Duncan Watmore and George Honeyman now remain on contracts signed in the Premier League era.

Cattermole’s mutually agreed departure frees Sunderland of an unsustainable committment and should allow for some reinvestment in lighter areas of the squad.

The impact on the squad

One of Jack Ross’ biggest challenges last season, and biggest successes, was managing a squad with a major disparity in profile, experience and renumeration.

It is testament to Cattermole’s professionalism and Ross’ man management that in the end it never proved to be an issue.

Sunderland, though, lacked a sense of identity and coherent paying style.

That was not Cattermole’s fault, the midfielder embodying the spirit and resilience that almost landed promotion, but it always felt as if Ross would be generally more comfortable playing with a younger and smaller squad.

In central midfield, Sunderland had too many options and arguably not enough variety. Cattermole was consistently impressive but the need for more height and energy was clear.

Dylan McGeouch was underutilised, and while he thrived at right back, Luke O’Nien has plenty to offer further forward and particularly now that Conor McLaughlin has been recruited.

Ethan Robson and Elliot Embleton are two players of rich promise but whose pathway to the first team has been uncertain.

Embleton is still weighing up a contract offer and whether Sunderland offers him the best chance of regular football. Something had to give and may still have to. Cattermole’s departure still leaves Sunderland potentially with seven senior central midfielders, plus Bali Mumba.

From a footballing perspective, there is to an extent no positive spin to put on Cattermole’s departure.

Sunderland lose a supreme player at this level, and a major influence in the dressing room.

What it may offer, however, is the chance to take another step in allowing Ross to put his stamp on the side.

If the result is more minutes for committed, talented local players, you suspect no one would be more supportive than Cattermole.

Where next for Cattermole?

Sheffield Wednesday have been linked with a move for Cattermole ever since Steve Bruce took over at Hillsborough.

Bruce, of course, brought Cattermole to the club a decade ago having enjoyed so much success with him at Wigan Athletic.

The big obstacle to a move was always the finances required, with Sheffield Wednesday battling FFP rules following their failure to win promotion to the Premier League in recent seasons.

The nature of Cattermole’s departure will clearly help if Bruce decides to move.

Interestingly, however, Cattermole has spoken only recently of a desire to play abroad.

Managers have often commented on how sharp his football brain is and how eager he has been to learn fromt he many different bosses he has played under both on Wearside and elsewhere.

Speaking to the PFA in March, he said: “For me personally, I don’t think China would suit me. But the MLS, Spain or Italy – that would be something I would be open to.”