When it comes to local rivalries and in particular football derbies, bad tackles and thuggery are oft repackaged as ‘passion’ and ‘a desire to win’. These quests for victory were quite evident in the Tyne Wear derby Saturday, where rather amazingly only one red card was brandished.
Looking at the respective lineups a betting man may have earmarked Lee Cattermole or Joey Barton as the likely recipient of such a sanction. Cattermole in particular has an on pitch ‘history’. His rash tackling and lack of composure have seen him gain twenty-three cards in just under fifty games for Sunderland, making him an evens favorite.
Of course this isn’t the first time the Stockton born midfielder has succumb to the atmosphere, and let down his manager against Newcastle in the process. In last seasons Halloween day derby, Cattermole was saved a dismissal by his manager, who wisely substituted him as his performance became ragged. Having been sent off twice in twenty-three games last season, a lack of discipline is a recurring theme for the player and one that his manager is well aware of.
Steve Bruce ironically labeled this season as ‘make or break’ for Cattermole, who seems intent to do the latter of the two options when it comes to dealing with opponents. He does have the potential to be a tidy player, even Sunderland fans can attest to games in which he’s looked a tough tackling but composed midfielder. Sadly these instances are all too rare and the fans are turning.
It all seems reminiscent to last season with Asamoah Gyan. With fans calling for the Ghanian’s inclusion, Bruce explained that he wanted to bed the player in slowly. A wise and seemingly calculated move for a player who went on to be the clubs leading goal scorer. Bruce made similar references this year in relation to ‘changing the side’. What makes his comments puzzling is that the majority of his newest acquisitions are fully acclimatized to this league, and even derbies. With Gardener having played in the Second city derby, he would seem ideal for a situation that required a levelheaded approach, and yet Bruce persisted with Cattermole.
It could be a sense of nostalgia from Bruce’s own playing days, possibly seeing bits of himself and his time in the game with the over zealous Cattermole. When speaking about Phil Bardsley’s red card he alluded to such an idea saying; “In my day it would of been seen as a good tackle because you hit the ball.” A somewhat mixed message when you consider he added either side of that quote that he could have no complaints over the decision.
That is in part because of the finite line Cattermole walks when playing. As soon as he receives a caution his game becomes far more limited, which isn’t saying much for a player who is the footballing equivalent of a pen knife. Despite being in his mid twenties his decision making is questionable, meaning that despite a preferred position of defensive midfield he lacks the calmness to play such a position. Considering he is partnered by Jack Colback, who at a mere 21 looks the epitome of composure further hampers his cause.
For example when you analyze who is the best defensive midfielder in the game you may look at recently retired Claude Makélélé. Looking back on his career, can you remember any crunching tackles or even dangerous play? No, because he was efficient and read the game. The idea that a defensive midfielder must be overtly physical bordering on criminal is outdated and naive.
With that in mind, Steve Bruce has decisions to make. His rival Alan Pardew had few qualms with exposing Yohan Cabaye to the league early on (more through necessity than judgment you imagine) and while he himself put in a questionable tackle on Bardsley, overall he impressed. The rematch of these old foes isn’t for several months, but in the meantime Bruce must now replace his blue-eyed boy with someone more reliable, or Sunderland are likely to suffer.