LEE CATTERMOLE’S Sunderland future is hanging by a thread after Paolo Di Canio refused to confirm whether the midfielder is still part of his plans for next season.
While the majority of Sunderland’s first-team players are in Hong Kong preparing for today’s Barclays Asia Trophy final against Manchester City, Cattermole is on Wearside completing his recovery from a knee injury.
The 24-year-old sustained the injury prior to Di Canio’s arrival at the Stadium of Light, and has therefore been unable to play for the Italian, but it is telling that Sunderland’s manager has hardly gone out of his way to embrace a player who is theoretically still the captain of the club.
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Cattermole has been strongly linked with a move away from the Stadium of Light this summer despite only signing a new three-year deal last October, with both Fulham and Hull understood to have inquired about his availability.
The Teessider should be fit enough to join in full training with his team-mates next week, but Di Canio remained guarded when the subject of his future was raised yesterday.
Asked directly whether Cattermole still had a future at Sunderland, Di Canio replied: “We will see. It depends.”
That was hardly a ringing endorsement, and sources close to Cattermole have confirmed he was unaware that summer signing Cabral would be wearing his number six shirt during Wednesday’s victory over Tottenham.
Cattermole is unlikely to remain on Wearside if he does not feel he has a realistic chance of playing regular first-team football, and while the possible sale of Alfred N’Diaye to Turkish side Eskiehirspor could remove some of the central midfield competition, there is little chance of the former Wigan midfielder being involved when Sunderland take on Fulham in the opening game of next season – unless he is appearing for the London club.
“He couldn’t come (to Hong Kong) because he was not fully fit, in the opinion of both myself and the fitness coach,” added Di Canio. “He is training with the reserves and then when we get back to Sunderland, he will be ready.”
A move to Fulham would be dependent on Cattermole being willing to take a wage cut, while Hull boss Steve Bruce has cooled his interest since first making contact with his former employers at the start of the month.
Steven Fletcher was also left at home when Sunderland flew to the Far East, but unlike Cattermole, the Scotsman is a key part of Di Canio’s plans for next season.
Fletcher continues to recuperate following ankle ligament surgery, and faces a struggle to be fit for the opening fixture.
“He is improving, he has improved a lot,” said Di Canio. “We can’t say how much longer it will take, but there is a big improvement and we know all about the problem. We are very happy with his progress and are waiting for him.”
In Fletcher’s absence, Jozy Altidore and Stephane Sessegnon will continue to lead the line against Manchester City this morning – provided the game takes place.
Torrential rain has battered Hong Kong in the last couple of days, and there is a chance today’s Barclays Asia Trophy final could be called off if conditions have not improved overnight.
Di Canio has had to alter his players’ training schedule because of the conditions, and admits he is concerned at the threat of an injury similar to the one sustained by Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen in Wednesday’s semi-final.
“It’s obvious I couldn’t imagine this kind of weather,” said the Sunderland boss. “But we have to handle the situation. We changed a bit our training session. The players weren’t happy because they were without the ball, but we couldn’t play on the field.
“We hope the rain can stop and maybe we can have a dry pitch, otherwise it will be difficult. Of course I am concerned about the safety of the players. This is a killer pitch with this weather, it is dangerous.”
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore will be part of the group that decides whether to go ahead or not, and today’s matches will not be rearranged if they are postponed because all three English clubs are due to fly back from Hong Kong tomorrow.
Sunderland winger Adam Johnson is particularly keen for today’s final to take place, having spent two-and-a-half years at Manchester City and scored the winner against his former employers in last season’s Boxing Day game at the Stadium of Light.
“It’s always nice going back to old teams and seeing familiar faces,” said Johnson. “I played against them last season and we did all right. This time around there’s less pressure, but we obviously want to win.”