After leaving Sunderland earlier this year, Lee Cattermole was without a club for a while. But last week he signed for VVV Venlo in the Netherlands, and he spoke to the Totally Football Show about his move…
Lee Cattermole had a strange summer.
After a decade at Sunderland and a few seasons at Wigan and Middlesbrough before that, he was without a club as pre-season training started for the first time in his career. Unemployment is an odd sensation even if you’re a professional footballer, but it also provided a chance to take stock, for Cattermole to think about where the last phase of his playing career might go.
“It was a bit of an eye-opener,” Cattermole tells the Totally Football Show. “It puts into perspective how fortunate I have been throughout my career. I spoke to a lot of lads who’d been in that situation. There’s a lot of uncertainty around, you get offered things that might not be right for you, the phone might be quiet for a week – so you get a bit unsure of where you’re going or what direction you’re going in.”
Cattermole was pretty clear about what he wanted to do, though.
“I think there were three or four Championship clubs I would’ve gone to for another year, but I 100% wanted to play abroad. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I wanted that experience.
“I had a list of things I wanted from my next move and I made sure I got most of those. So whenever I got an opportunity, I would go back to that list. That’s what kept my mind clear in terms of making a decision. The league, country, location, lifestyle, money and the coaching opportunity for me – that was the big thing. This ticked everything barring money! But it was never about that for me.”
And so it came to pass that Cattermole signed for Eredivisie side VVV Venlo last week, making his debut in their 2-1 win over FC Utrecht at the weekend.
The instinctive reaction might be that Cattermole – a man who made his reputation as a no-nonsense, tough tackling midfielder in England- and a Dutch club are a slightly odd fit, and admittedly he did rather reinforce that perception by getting booked 11 minutes after coming on in his first game.
But anyone who has watched Cattermole regularly will know there is more to him than that, a hard man for sure but one with a few more delicate edges than he’s given credit for.
Interestingly, that sort of perception doesn’t seem to bother Cattermole, but it’s more the idea that a player of his age – 31 – is less likely to get offers that preoccupies him.
“I’ve never really worried about that [the perception of his playing style],” he says. “I had a hip operation two years ago, but I had a good season last year. If you’re a younger player playing 30 times and scoring seven goals in League One, which I’d never done before, you probably have a lot of opportunities to go to other clubs.
“But if you’re 31, people think that’s a bad thing. The thing that impressed me about coming here was how much they wanted from me as well [passing on experience], which I think every club needs. Even if you look at Ajax last year, they brought Dusan Tadic in, had Daley Blind – they’ve had a much better season and sold the younger players on the back of that.”
That season in the Championship - the players who came to Sunderland couldn't have come to a worse club.
Cattermole left Sunderland at the end of last season by mutual consent, the club unable to justify his contract for another season in League One. He stayed with them after a few of the most difficult seasons in the club’s history, as they suffered successive relegations and most damagingly a vacuum in leadership at the top of the club, until Stewart Donald took over in 2018.
“That season in the Championship [2017/18], the players who came to Sunderland couldn’t have come to a worse football club. They couldn’t have come and played well because there was so much uncertainty from the top of the club.”
Was there anything he’d have done differently? “You can go forever and look at things from a different angle every day, and each day you’ll have a different thought. Ultimately the club lost our way a little bit, maybe because of leadership from the very top, but I had eight good seasons there and I’ll never forget that.
“Last season was a big season. Up until the last five games we’d only lost twice, we had 18 draws and we should’ve got promoted but we had to stop that losing habit and really turn that around, and there’s a different feeling at the club now.”
As soon as I've come here I've felt excited straight away.
Even though he’s still relatively young at 31, Cattermole mentions the possibility of learning his trade as a coach as a factor in deciding to sign for VVV, and taking himself out of his comfort zone is the best way to do that.
“14 seasons I’ve played professionally in England: it’s not that you go stale, but there’s only so much you can learn. As soon as I’ve come here I’ve felt excited straight away, I want to play, want to improve, want to learn.
“Gus Poyet taught me a lot. HIs way of thinking really opened my eyes. I’ve shared dressing rooms with lads from all over the world and hearing about the leagues they’ve played in and thought ‘Yeah, I fancy that.’
“This year is definitely about broadening my horizons a little bit, seeing what’s out there, and obviously helping VVV as much as I can. 100% I’m here as a player and I want to play for as long as possible: you’re a long time retired, and as long as I’m enjoying going to training every day, I want to play for as long as possible and I’m definitely still enjoying it.
“I’ve had too much of a good career, I think, for it to just fizzle out and not do something for me.”
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