Scott Wilson Column: Why Cattermole's omission means Roy Hodgson has called up the wrong North-East midfielder

OVERLOOKED: Sunderland midfielder Lee Cattermole merited a call-up to the England squad

OVERLOOKED: Sunderland midfielder Lee Cattermole merited a call-up to the England squad

First published in Sport
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The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

FIRST things first, huge congratulations to Newcastle United midfielder Jack Colback, who received his maiden call-up to the England squad yesterday.

The 24-year-old’s selection for next Wednesday’s friendly with Norway and the following Monday’s Euro 2016 qualifier with Switzerland is testament to Colback’s hard work, diligence and talent, attributes that have enabled him to take his career to a level few could have imagined when he was first coming through the ranks at Sunderland.

While the North-Easterner might not possess the supposed star quality of many of the players who have underperformed so spectacularly in an England shirt at recent major tournaments, his ease in possession and ability to dissect an opposition defence should enable him to feel at home at international level.

Similarly, Roy Hodgson’s decision to call up Aston Villa’s Fabian Delph also displays a pleasing willingness to draw a line under the past.

However, the presence of the two midfielders in the squad that will link up on Sunday highlights the continued omission of a player who divides opinion like few others. A couple of days ago, I suggested on social media that Sunderland’s Lee Cattermole should be given a chance in England colours. It is safe to say that plenty of respondents disagreed.

“I’ll have some of whatever you’ve been smoking,” was one of the more measured responses, yet I stand by my view. Having watched England at first hand for a number of years now, I genuinely believe Cattermole is someone who would significantly enhance the national side’s chances of coping with top-class opposition in a major tournament.

And while in no way wanting to denigrate Colback’s right to international honours, I can’t help thinking Hodgson has called up the wrong North-East midfielder.

Cattermole is not necessarily the right man for a home friendly with Norway, or even to ensure a comfortable passage through an inviting qualifying group where the top two finishers are guaranteed a place in France. But we all know England are pretty adept at that sort of thing anyway.

It’s the tactical crucible of a major tournament where we repeatedly fall down, and as this summer’s World Cup proved once again, simply picking what the manager of the time believes to be the best 11 players doesn’t work.

The sides that played above themselves in Brazil – Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia and even Holland – did so because they adopted very specific tactics to maximise their chances of beating sides who were arguably their superiors on paper.

Those tactics didn’t involve selecting a group of supposedly talented players and throwing them together to make a team. In each case, players were selected to perform a clearly-defined role, which often involved negating an opposition strength or masking a weakness somewhere else on the field.

For most of the last decade, and certainly stretching back to the previous World Cup in South Africa, England’s key weakness has been at the heart of their central defence and the base of their midfield.

Just as John Terry and Matthew Upson’s collective lack of pace was brutally exposed in Bloemfontein, so Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka’s positional uncertainty was England’s undoing in Manaus and Sao Paolo.

On each occasion, however, the central defenders were repeatedly left wide open because of a lack of cover in front of them. Gareth Barry’s immobility rendered him completely ineffective in South Africa, while Gerrard’s desire to push forward and uncertainty under the high ball contributed to England’s undoing in Brazil.

We have not had a natural holding midfielder in the team since Owen Hargreaves briefly shone in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and for all that they are neat and tidy passers of the ball, neither Colback nor Delph are that player either. If Hodgson is thinking of playing either alongside Jack Wilshere at the base of England’s midfield, the age-old problems of a lack of defensive cover will remain.

All of which brings us to Cattermole, or ‘Clattermole’ as he has been branded by his critics, most of whom like to trot off a list of disciplinary issues from three or four years ago to justify their opinion of the Teessider’s abilities.

Yes, there have been times in the past when Cattermole was a liability. And yes, until he is tried in the cutthroat environs of international football, where referees are generally quick to latch on to even the most minor of indiscretions, we will never truly know if he is likely to be one again.

But having watched the 26-year-old in the second half of the last campaign and the opening few weeks of the current season, I do not believe there is a better defensive midfielder in the country.

His discipline has unquestionably improved, with his only dismissal last season coming courtesy of a mistimed tackle at Hull. Having been instructed not to dive in at every opportunity, he has clearly made a concerted effort to rein in his more emotional instincts.

In doing so, his game has improved, and he is currently playing better than at any time since he first burst on to the scene at Middlesbrough and was winning England Under-21 caps galore as, somewhat ironically, he was widely tipped as a future international.

His passion, commitment and fierce will to win were key factors in Sunderland’s ‘great escape’ last season, indeed had Poyet not recalled him in March, I’m pretty sure the Black Cats would have dropped into the Championship.

Poyet, of course, was ready to sell Cattermole in January, influenced perhaps in part by his reputation. He bought one of his Brighton favourites, Liam Bridcutt, to replace him, but Cattermole’s form has forced the Uruguayan to perform a dramatic U-turn.

Now, Cattermole is the linchpin of the Sunderland midfield, and while his ability with the ball at his feet is often downplayed – witness the sensational strike at West Brom on the opening day of the season – it is his positional discipline, closing down of opponents and ability to track runners in order to regain possession that make him so influential.

Sadly, you don’t see that on a Match of the Day highlights package, so London-based observers continue to deride him as a relic and Hodgson appears to be equally oblivious to his talents.

That is shame. England will no doubt trounce Norway on Wednesday and ultimately cruise through another qualifying campaign. Come the summer of 2016 though, we will be wondering why the leading European sides pass right through us once again.

Comments (19)

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7:51am Fri 29 Aug 14

Plato Chips says...

If you'd asked any Sunderland fan, before his move to the dark side, they'd have said he's a long way behind Catts on the team sheet. Genuinely shocked. Poor lad, thought he'd struggle to come to terms with new club expectations without this.
If you'd asked any Sunderland fan, before his move to the dark side, they'd have said he's a long way behind Catts on the team sheet. Genuinely shocked. Poor lad, thought he'd struggle to come to terms with new club expectations without this. Plato Chips
  • Score: 39

8:08am Fri 29 Aug 14

John Shaft says...

"his ability to Dissect a pass"...... just what planet are you from ...LoL
"his ability to Dissect a pass"...... just what planet are you from ...LoL John Shaft
  • Score: -3

8:10am Fri 29 Aug 14

John Shaft says...

Colback, "his ability to dissect a pass" ......Scott Wilson, just what planet are you from? LoL. LoL
Colback, "his ability to dissect a pass" ......Scott Wilson, just what planet are you from? LoL. LoL John Shaft
  • Score: 12

9:23am Fri 29 Aug 14

Shakerxxoo says...

No one would care about your opinions dude !!
Just grow up & move on , Jack Colback is a good player
and he showed that in just 2 games with us
you need to change the way you think ans see things .
No one would care about your opinions dude !! Just grow up & move on , Jack Colback is a good player and he showed that in just 2 games with us you need to change the way you think ans see things . Shakerxxoo
  • Score: -67

9:28am Fri 29 Aug 14

moby wanyroy says...

Jason Steele is a good goalkeeper, now this cretin Cattermole is a paragon of virtue, Mr Wilson, you should be a columnist in a children's fantasy comic, not the Northern Echo.
Jason Steele is a good goalkeeper, now this cretin Cattermole is a paragon of virtue, Mr Wilson, you should be a columnist in a children's fantasy comic, not the Northern Echo. moby wanyroy
  • Score: -63

9:51am Fri 29 Aug 14

Keith SAFC says...

Superbly written piece and pretty much spot on. We picked up a solitary point and lamely left the world cup after being outplayed 3 times by average teams. The difference was they were solid teams whilst we were a ill thought out rabble. Picking 2 attacking full backs and 6 attack minded midfielders / forwards left our 2 fairly average centre backs horribly exposed.

Colback is a defensive midfield player but doesn't even play holding midfield. If Newcastle fans think they know more about Colback after 2 games than Sunderland fans do after 100 games they are deluded and in for a shock. His game at St James last season was a rare pearl in amongst a sea of nothing performances of retaining possession but hardly ever hurting the opposition. The ginger Pirlo can't lace Cattermole's boots when it comes to leadership, commitment, never hiding and above all driving a team on under any circumstances.

England lack leaders on the pitch without the likes of Terry, Gerrard and Lampard. Cattermole ticks a lot of boxes for what they need to protect and cajole their promising youngsters. Alas old Woy has gone down the safe route. It's like watching Ron Greenwood's reign all over again.
Superbly written piece and pretty much spot on. We picked up a solitary point and lamely left the world cup after being outplayed 3 times by average teams. The difference was they were solid teams whilst we were a ill thought out rabble. Picking 2 attacking full backs and 6 attack minded midfielders / forwards left our 2 fairly average centre backs horribly exposed. Colback is a defensive midfield player but doesn't even play holding midfield. If Newcastle fans think they know more about Colback after 2 games than Sunderland fans do after 100 games they are deluded and in for a shock. His game at St James last season was a rare pearl in amongst a sea of nothing performances of retaining possession but hardly ever hurting the opposition. The ginger Pirlo can't lace Cattermole's boots when it comes to leadership, commitment, never hiding and above all driving a team on under any circumstances. England lack leaders on the pitch without the likes of Terry, Gerrard and Lampard. Cattermole ticks a lot of boxes for what they need to protect and cajole their promising youngsters. Alas old Woy has gone down the safe route. It's like watching Ron Greenwood's reign all over again. Keith SAFC
  • Score: 100

10:09am Fri 29 Aug 14

ColinChes says...

Well said Sir ! I have followed Jack Colbacks entire Sunderland career with interest and the only disagreement I would have with what you say is your reference to him being able to 'dissect a defence'. Have you EVER seen him do this? If so that's once more than me. Jack will pass the ball square all day long and is as you say, mostly neat and tidy. Our monochrome friends will find however that he also gives the ball away needlessly under pressure. In all fairness I have to say that this is a ridiculous call up. Jack wasn't an England player at Sunderland and isn't now. Lee Cattermole, while also being short of creativity is a far more substantial footballer.
Well said Sir ! I have followed Jack Colbacks entire Sunderland career with interest and the only disagreement I would have with what you say is your reference to him being able to 'dissect a defence'. Have you EVER seen him do this? If so that's once more than me. Jack will pass the ball square all day long and is as you say, mostly neat and tidy. Our monochrome friends will find however that he also gives the ball away needlessly under pressure. In all fairness I have to say that this is a ridiculous call up. Jack wasn't an England player at Sunderland and isn't now. Lee Cattermole, while also being short of creativity is a far more substantial footballer. ColinChes
  • Score: 46

10:28am Fri 29 Aug 14

theWorkerScum says...

For me cattermole brings something very different to colback. Something which is missing in the England squad and we needed against Costa Rica. Can't see the point in colback when we have Henderson but that's why we have the worst England team in years and a useless manager.
For me cattermole brings something very different to colback. Something which is missing in the England squad and we needed against Costa Rica. Can't see the point in colback when we have Henderson but that's why we have the worst England team in years and a useless manager. theWorkerScum
  • Score: 37

12:32pm Fri 29 Aug 14

loan_star says...

Neither player is good enough for that level.
Neither player is good enough for that level. loan_star
  • Score: -14

1:53pm Fri 29 Aug 14

BP4200 says...

by gum there's some sour grapes knockin about. colback is now on england player .... live with it. Cattermole just walks round newcastle drunk and damaging cars....
by gum there's some sour grapes knockin about. colback is now on england player .... live with it. Cattermole just walks round newcastle drunk and damaging cars.... BP4200
  • Score: -29

4:41pm Fri 29 Aug 14

Topcat28 says...

Both good players but International quality I'm not so certain. However I think players playing well for their team in the PL should be given a chance.
There's also an argument to be made for picking the best "team" and not just selecting the best players for each position as highlighted in the article. I think although the article makes a number of good points regarding the state of the current England squad we should remind ourselves not to be too short sighted and look to the future with players like Stones and Chaloba, who I would much rather take a chance on.
Both good players but International quality I'm not so certain. However I think players playing well for their team in the PL should be given a chance. There's also an argument to be made for picking the best "team" and not just selecting the best players for each position as highlighted in the article. I think although the article makes a number of good points regarding the state of the current England squad we should remind ourselves not to be too short sighted and look to the future with players like Stones and Chaloba, who I would much rather take a chance on. Topcat28
  • Score: -1

5:48pm Fri 29 Aug 14

lindaron says...

ok
ok lindaron
  • Score: 1

6:40pm Fri 29 Aug 14

Westwoods says...

Colback is a decent tidy player , but never looked like an international at safc , 2 games at Nufc has not made any difference but good luck to him anyway , Cattermole has looked a different type of player in the 2nd half of last season to the one that was previously off the mark with tackles and misplaced passes , he has stepped up and has been heads and shoulders a stand out player , even adding goals in to his armoury , is Lee international class? Not sure , but lots of worse players like , Smalling, Jones and Cleverley to name just three, are current players at the recent World Cup , ( all proven failures)
On form , and in his position , screening the defence and building from the back Lee would definitely deserve a chance
Colback is a decent tidy player , but never looked like an international at safc , 2 games at Nufc has not made any difference but good luck to him anyway , Cattermole has looked a different type of player in the 2nd half of last season to the one that was previously off the mark with tackles and misplaced passes , he has stepped up and has been heads and shoulders a stand out player , even adding goals in to his armoury , is Lee international class? Not sure , but lots of worse players like , Smalling, Jones and Cleverley to name just three, are current players at the recent World Cup , ( all proven failures) On form , and in his position , screening the defence and building from the back Lee would definitely deserve a chance Westwoods
  • Score: 10

6:42pm Fri 29 Aug 14

AwesomeDave says...

Definitely agree with you, however am selfishly glad he's not in the squad, would risk him getting injured and increase the likely-hood of someone trying to sign him!
Definitely agree with you, however am selfishly glad he's not in the squad, would risk him getting injured and increase the likely-hood of someone trying to sign him! AwesomeDave
  • Score: 6

9:15pm Fri 29 Aug 14

Super striker says...

Great article,controversia
l,debate provoking,and correct on all counts.ii never considered either as England material but having read the piece I can see the sense that you don't necessarily need to pick the most talented player but more sensibly a player to do a particular job.Cattermole in my opinion would bring more to the table than Colback Enthusism,drive,cour
age,determination and no little skill.Every great team needs some steel at its heart,the likes of Bremner,Styles,Gemme
l to name a few Cattermole certainly falls into this category Colback not yet.
Great article,controversia l,debate provoking,and correct on all counts.ii never considered either as England material but having read the piece I can see the sense that you don't necessarily need to pick the most talented player but more sensibly a player to do a particular job.Cattermole in my opinion would bring more to the table than Colback Enthusism,drive,cour age,determination and no little skill.Every great team needs some steel at its heart,the likes of Bremner,Styles,Gemme l to name a few Cattermole certainly falls into this category Colback not yet. Super striker
  • Score: 7

11:27pm Fri 29 Aug 14

Risk555 says...

Great to hear all the 1992ers' fans in the Northern Echos coverage area on this topic.
Great to hear all the 1992ers' fans in the Northern Echos coverage area on this topic. Risk555
  • Score: 2

11:58pm Fri 29 Aug 14

shayman says...

This is why we are a joke in international terms ,people arguing about two players who thirty year ago would have struggled to get a game in the northern league.
This is why we are a joke in international terms ,people arguing about two players who thirty year ago would have struggled to get a game in the northern league. shayman
  • Score: -1

6:55am Sat 30 Aug 14

jd6620 says...

Totally agree with Scott Wilson, England were being bullied by Uraguay & needed a reminder who they were playing. We always used to pick ahard man eg, Hunter, Storey ,Reid,Pearce, Robson, the list goes on. Gerrard used to have this role but was blunted by his captaincy responsibilities as was the rest of his game. Cattermole has matured & become a very good inspirational ball winning midfielder who always gives 100% no matter who he is playing against. Alf Ramsey didnt pick the 11 best players in th e country to win the World Cup in 1966 he picked what he thought was the best team to win it.
Totally agree with Scott Wilson, England were being bullied by Uraguay & needed a reminder who they were playing. We always used to pick ahard man eg, Hunter, Storey ,Reid,Pearce, Robson, the list goes on. Gerrard used to have this role but was blunted by his captaincy responsibilities as was the rest of his game. Cattermole has matured & become a very good inspirational ball winning midfielder who always gives 100% no matter who he is playing against. Alf Ramsey didnt pick the 11 best players in th e country to win the World Cup in 1966 he picked what he thought was the best team to win it. jd6620
  • Score: 4

5:44pm Wed 3 Sep 14

pxatkins says...

Cattermole would be booked after his first tackle in an International, sent off later same game. He's a thug, and thugs, much as I love them, are not allowed on the International stage. Look at Carroll and Crouch ... warned so often they had to abandon the styles that made them great. Sometimes, Peter Crouch should have swapped shirts with the ref at the conclusion of games.
Cattermole would be booked after his first tackle in an International, sent off later same game. He's a thug, and thugs, much as I love them, are not allowed on the International stage. Look at Carroll and Crouch ... warned so often they had to abandon the styles that made them great. Sometimes, Peter Crouch should have swapped shirts with the ref at the conclusion of games. pxatkins
  • Score: 0
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