Lee Cattermole thinks it will be another three weeks before Sunderland start seeing the best of him, writes STUART RAYNER.
The deposed captain has been an inspirational figure since being brought back for Paolo Di Canio’s final game in charge.
He was a substitute at West Bromwich Albion on September 21, but has started all five matches since.
The Teessider’s fitness has held up well considering, but a player who admits he did not really appreciate the full extent of the work needed in previous seasons still does not yet feel in peak condition.
“I want to stay fit,” said Cattermole, who has been troubled by knee problems in his four-year Sunderland career. “That’s been my only problem here really. You can talk about suspensions but that was years ago.
“I am doing everything I can to stay fit during the week. I spend more time in the gym than I have in the past when I was a bit more old-school. I didn’t really get involved in the shakes that you take, the core work and the leg weights. All of those are there to help us.
“I have a better understanding with the fitness coaches now. I am doing everything I can to stay on the pitch. If I stay on the pitch I think I can help Sunderland.
“The extra fitness work will stand me in good stead for the future.
“It’s match-time what counts. After the next international break I think I will be really going well.
“I’ve worked hard and come back from a serious knee injury. I always felt if I got a chance to come back in I’d have a good season. I’ll do everything I can to help Sunderland get out of the position they are in.”
Cattermole did not have much of a pre-season, made to train and play with the under-21s by Di Canio.
But even Di Canio eventually had to admit the dire predicament Sunderland found themselves required the tenacious ball-winning midfielder. For all his faults, the Italian at least had the grace to bring Cattermole back into the fold, saying he did not want to “cut my nose off to spite my face”.
The Black Cats have three more matches before the Premier League takes another break, this time for the World Cup qualifying play-offs. Hull City – managed by Steve Bruce, Cattermole’s boss at Wigan and Sunderland – and Manchester City are their league opponents. In between comes a League Cup last-16 game at home to Southampton.
Swapping Di Canio for Gustavo Poyet has lightened the mood at the Academy of Light but, according to Cattermole, the intensity of training has increased as the Uruguayan tries to give his players a crash course in his philosophy.
“He’s got us working with a higher intensity in training, but he is a lot more relaxed than the old manager,” was Cattermole’s view. “He’s demanding of his players, but he wants us to enjoy our jobs. He’s always telling us what great jobs we have and we believe that. We’ve got to keep believing in him and ourselves.”
Cattermole claims not to have cared that Di Canio handed the captain’s armband to John O’Shea this season, and remains one of Sunderland’s leaders regardless.
“It’s not something I’ve ever wanted to do,” he said of captaincy, despite having led all his previous clubs too. “It’s not going to change me in any way by not having it. I still take the responsibility and if we go down it will kill me. I would have a terrible summer because that is the way I am. I take responsibility in any dressing room whether I’m captain or not.”
Meanwhile, reports say highly-rated centre-back John Souttar has turned down a move to Sunderland. Dundee United turned down a £600,000 second bid for the 17-year-old but after travelling to Wearside last month to meet with club officials, Souttar has apparently decided against a move.