ADAM JOHNSON’S first impression of Lee Cattermole was of a tempestuous and immature footballer who didn’t know when to hold his tongue or pull out of a tackle.
The Sunderland winger can clearly recall how volatile the 15-year-old was as a young man who had plenty to say for himself on and off the pitch and was not afraid to put a boot in when the situation required such action.
The two players started out their journey to professional football at Middlesbrough almost 10 years ago.
They made it through the ranks together all the way to the first team at the Riverside before moving on to new pastures within 12 months of one another.
Johnson, who signed for Manchester City, perhaps thought little if anything had really changed when he rejoined his old pal at Sunderland in August.
Almost straight away Cattermole picked up yet another suspension for a stupid tackle, against MK Dons in the Capital One Cup, which earned him a needless red card.
Even taking that moment of madness out of the equation, Cattermole’s disciplinary record over the past three years has been less than exemplary.
Or to put it another way, it’s been dreadful.
However, the 24-year-old Sunderland captain has won over most, although not all, of his critics with inspiring performances of late.
The fight and desire remains, but these are tempered by a more intelligent approach from a player with far more guile than he is given credit for.
Cattermole has been rewarded with a new contract and has seen his standing among his peers grow with every game, certainly in the eyes of one who has known him longer than anyone else.
Johnson said: “From the age of 15, Lee was one of those players who was hot-headed and got the lads in his own team going.
“As a young lad he was probably even crazier than he is now.
“On the pitch, when he was young, he was just so enthusiastic and would go into all sorts of tackles.
“Now, and especially this season, we have all seen a different side to his game.
“He gets a lot of bad press for getting sent off a lot and some other things, but if you look at his game when he does play he is massive for the team.
“It’s not just about getting the players going, he can play, he passes it and he gets on the ball all the time.
“Since I have come to the club, I have seen a massive difference to the guy I played with in the Boro under-21s.
“Lee has matured and is worthy of being a captain because he’s a great leader.”
There is no point in being a great leader, though, when you are sitting in the stand because of a not so great red card.
Cattermole looks to have calmed down – relatively speaking – since missing those games earlier in the season and has been Sunderland’s best player since returning to the side.
However, he did miss last Saturday’s defeat to Everton, through a knee injury, and his absence was keenly felt.
Johnson added: “You always want your captain in the team.
“Lee is the captain for a reason and not just for shouting things, it’s the way he goes about his business on the pitch.
“He is a player who lifts everyone by putting in a tackle, or getting on the ball and making something happen.
“He does drive everyone forward. Any team would miss their captain and, looking back to the Everton game, if we’d had Lee in the team for those last 15 minutes then maybe we would have won.”
Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill (right) claimed Cattermole could battle his way into the England squad sometime in the future.
He might not be everyone’s idea of an international player, but when you recall England’s insipid performances over recent years you have to ask could he do any worse?
Johnson, however, has more chance of getting a call-up.
He has 12 caps and two goals for England to his name so far but was left out of the squad who will face Sweden tonight in Stockholm.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, for Roy Hodgson to pick any player short of fitness, never mind form, so Johnson’s exclusion came as no great surprise.
He believes a return to form for Sunderland will help him win back his place with the national squad and he could play a major part in qualifying for the Brazil World Cup in 2014. Johnson said: “I hope Saturday can kick-start the season and hopefully help me get back in the England squad, but if I am honest that’s not something I have been thinking about too much.
“The manager is experimenting with the squad and hopefully I will be back in it when the qualifiers start again.
“I want to be part of every England squad.
“I know there are a few players left out this time, so I wasn’t too disappointed to miss out on a friendly game.
“I have to play well for my club and if the England call comes it comes. Playing for England is a massive thing and I want to be involved.”