GUS POYET has claimed Lee Cattermole would be a regular international if he was Uruguayan, and argued that Jack Colback’s England prospects have been improved because he plays with a “team of French players” at Newcastle United.
While Colback earned his maiden England call-up on Thursday ahead of next Wednesday’s friendly with Norway and the following week’s Euro 2016 qualifier with Switzerland, Cattermole was overlooked despite arguably having been Sunderland’s most impressive and consistent player in the second half of last season and the first three weeks of the current campaign.
The 26-year-old is one of the few naturally defensive midfielders in the English game, yet his critics maintain he is far too hot-headed and undisciplined to handle the step up to international level, even though the national side’s weakness at the base of midfield has been evident in a succession of major tournaments.
Poyet claims Cattermole’s aggression and commitment should be viewed as an asset rather than a potential liability, and is confident the Teessider would be one of the first names on the team sheet if he was available to play for Uruguay, who made the knockout stages of this summer’s World Cup, rather than England, who didn’t.
“In Uruguay, (there is) no doubt he would be picked,” said the Sunderland head coach. “We like that (that sort of combative player). But there are different ways of playing football and depending what you want from your team, you pick your players accordingly.
“Should a certain player be in the national team? It’s up to the manager. But if I was a national team manager, I would definitely pick Lee Cattermole because I like his character and the way he plays the game. It’s good to have a player like that in your team.
“Lee just needs to say, ‘If I keep performing the way I have been, then sooner or later I am going to have a chance’. That’s the only way. As a player you have to perform, and then it is up to the national manager whether he likes you or not, and whether he needs that type of player.”
Poyet’s glowing endorsement of Cattermole’s qualities comes just seven months after he was considering selling him to Stoke City, such was his own scepticism about the midfielder’s ability to curb his rasher instincts.
Since then, Cattermole has avoided a red card and picked up a total of just three bookings, with his increased control having improved his game rather than restricting it.
He was the stand-out performer in Sunderland’s opening-day draw at West Brom, and secured the man-of-the-match honours again in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United. As a result, he will retain his place in the side that faces QPR this afternoon, with Poyet’s January choice of replacement, Liam Bridcutt, restricted to a spot on the bench.
“When a manager brings in a player in January, like I did with Liam, he (Cattermole) might have thought he wasn’t going to be playing anymore,” said Poyet. “It’s all down to Lee. He needed to go to another level, and he has done it.
“I like players like Lee. I need at least one like him in my team, but some managers don’t like a player who one day is going to get a red card. I don’t care, it’s part of the game, but Lee finished 20 games last year without being sent off and has had nothing this year.
“He is enjoying his football and we lose the ball less now. We are defending less so he doesn’t have to make so many tackles, but that side of his game has improved dramatically.
“We are a different team when he is on the pitch and that’s important for him. Maybe that will help him get into the England team.”
While Cattermole has been overlooked for international duty, Colback will hope to make his England debut at Wembley on Wednesday night.
Despite Alan Pardew claiming the North-Easterner’s switch to Newcastle played a key role in his call-up, Poyet claims Sunderland deserve “98 per cent of the credit” for his elevation to the senior ranks.
And in a thinly-veiled dig at Sunderland’s regional rivals, the head coach claims that while the Black Cats can boast a number of potential England internationals – Cattermole, Adam Johnson, Jack Rodwell, Connor Wickham – Colback stands out because he is one of the few Englishmen on Newcastle’s books.
“The better we perform, the more players we will put in the national team,” he said. “We have plenty of British players now, and a few good English talents. The idea was to get a good balance between British players and foreigners.
“Maybe it was easier for Jack to get into the national team because he is playing with all French players (at Newcastle). He is just about the only Englishman, so it was very easy to pick him. Maybe we should we bring all French players here and play them with Lee Cattermole.”