Craig Gardner has praised Lee Cattermole and caretaker manager Kevin Ball for the leadership they showed in revitalising Sunderland.
Gustavo Poyet takes charge of his first match as Black Cats coach at Swansea on Saturday. But Gardner says the process of rebuilding morale after Paolo Di Canio’s confrontational reign has already begun.
While Ball has returned to his job coaching the club’s under-21s, the man he brought back into the starting line-up will continue to play an important role, both in the dressing room and on the field.
Poyet’s Brighton and Hove Albion teams relied heavily on a good defensive midfield “pivot” and Cattermole seems certain to be given the job at the Liberty Stadium.
Gardner said: “Catts is Catts. You know what you’re going to get every single game. He’s going to work hard, run about, put tackles in. He’s just a great player to have back in the team and on the training field as well.”
It is a lead Gardner, who seemed to constantly switch between right-back and midfield under both Di Canio and Ball, tries to follow.
“If you don’t know me, you should know what I’m about,” said the 26-year-old from Birmingham. “Whatever position I play in I just want to be on that pitch, it doesn’t matter where. You’ll never see anything less than 100% from me.
“If I see fans in the street or a restaurant I’ll always stop and shake their hand, let them take a picture, give an autograph.
“You’ll never see me turning my back on them. They pay their money to come and watch us; you have to give something back.”
Cattermole had his captain’s armband and squad number taken off him by Di Canio, but crucially he and director of football Roberto De Fanti were unable to sell the Teessider.
Di Canio brought Cattermole back into the squad for the head coach’s final match in charge and Ball immediately restored him to the starting line-up for all three games he took charge of.
Gardner says Ball changed the mood at the Stadium of Light, paving the way for Poyet, who was appointed last Tuesday. He said: “The atmosphere around the place was brilliant because everyone had total respect for Bally.
“The lads in the changing room were buzzing, it’s been a total 360.”
While Sunderland’s dressing room was not a happy place when Di Canio was being so vocal in his criticisms of those in it, Gardner insists it was not split along national lines.
Many of Sunderland’s 14 summer signings speak little English, but Gardner has been impressed by their willingness to learn as Poyet – like Di Canio before him – insists they must.
He said: “A lot of them don’t speak English but they’re learning every single day. They’re asking the lads, ‘What does this mean?’ They’re picking it up now.
“Emanuele Giaccherini is working really hard on his English and talking a lot more fluently now.
“Everyone’s helping and the lads are getting behind each other and helping the foreign lads to settle.
“Football’s one language. If someone is running off somebody you don’t have to say anything, you just see the runs. They’ll get there.
“It’s hard to understand the English game because it’s faster than any other league in the world.”
Meanwhile, Jozy Altidore enhanced his reputation and confidence with a sixth goal in as many international starts as the USA secured World Cup qualification with a 2-0 win over Jamaica.
The 23-year-old is still looking for his first Premier League goal with Sunderland, having scored only one in his season at Hull City.
However, Altidore now has 21 international goals – including eight this year.