THIS time last year Lee Cattermole wondered what the future would hold. Having spent the close-season making a daily appearance at the Academy of Light rather than going on a relaxing holiday, pre-season was about building up his fitness in the hope of forcing his way back in to the Sunderland first team picture.
Paolo Di Canio had basically frozen him out and decided he no longer wanted him, so he was training with the development squad most of the time, and then when the Premier League started he was wondering where and when he would be leaving.
Fast-forward 12 months and Cattermole is in a totally different place. He has not had the injury problems blighting his summer, so a proper rest has been followed by a comprehensive pre-season under Gustavo Poyet and he is “ready to go.”
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He said: “I had a good break. I didn’t get that really last year because of the knee injury I ended the season with, so I was in Monday to Friday and the odd Saturday when the other lads were on holiday. I only had four or five days off.
“Then I came back and I wasn’t in the picture. I sat tight. A lot went on last year but this time around I feel great. I’ve had a good holiday, time away this time, and I have had a good pre-season under my belt.”
Cattermole should figure against Vitoria Setubal in the Algarve tonight after coming through training yesterday with no lingering effects from the ankle problem which forced him to withdraw against CD Nacional on Wednesday.
The trip has gone well so far, even if the new arrivals Poyet had hoped to have with him during the ten-day training base have not arrived. Sunderland’s players are feeling more confident heading towards the new season than the previous year.
“It comes from the manager, he plans, and he’s had everything organised for us from the training sessions put on for us to when we eat, train or whatever,” said Cattermole. “It’s a long season and this part is really important because it’s about getting things right.
“We need to start well. Last season we didn’t start well so we were on the back foot from day one. We need to get some points on the board early and I think you will see we are a decent side this year. We started the season with a very inexperienced team last season and I think the players who are still here will have learned from that, they will be stronger for it.”
The need for reinforcements is not lost on the players either. Despite the efforts of sporting director Lee Congerton, Patrick van Aanholt remains the club’s only purchase after landing four free agents beforehand.
Cattermole said: “As players we chat, we chat about the players being mentioned and what we think we might need. Everyone does who has an interest in Sunderland I’d imagine. We can’t affect any of that.
“If we end up going in to the season with what we have now then we have to make sure we are all pulling in the same direction. Lads might end up staying this year who were out on loan last time, they could have a big part to play. We have lost good players from last season as well, so we know we have to add.”
One of the “good players” Cattermole is talking about, you assume, is Phil Bardsley. The pair became huge friends during their time together at Sunderland and Bardsley’s move to Stoke this summer means a huge change for the former Middlesbrough midfielder.
“It has been different without him here,” said Cattermole, who went to Bardsley’s wedding in the summer. “There are plenty of games when I will see him. It can be tricky sometimes to have such a good mate in the same squad because when you are trying to have a pop at each other it can sometimes be more difficult.
“Phil has gone. It will be good for him, I’m sure. Anyone who has played in the North-East knows it can be quite demanding in the North-East and he is heading back home really, around the Manchester area, so I’m sure he will have a good time there.”