Midfielder takes on Newcastle hoping to put problems behind him after returning from being exiled by Paolo Di Canio
The words "mature" and "Lee Cattermole" have not always belonged in the same sentence but Sunderland's most dynamic midfielder is adamant he is a much-changed man.
For so long synonymous with a series of well-documented on and off-field scrapes, Cattermole cuts an unexpectedly measured figure these days. "I'm more mature now, 100%," says a 25-year-old whose new persona faces its first test on Sunday when he renews an abrasive midfield rivalry with Newcastle United's Cheik Tioté at the Stadium of Light.
It is Gus Poyet's debut in the home dugout and if Sunderland are to add to their one point from eight games, Paolo Di Canio's successor will require a strong performance from the team's former captain.
Cattermole is desperate to achieve that aim. The shock of undergoing major knee surgery midway through last season followed by the loss of the armband, combined with a first-team exile under Di Canio, prompted a renunciation of his "old school" habits. He is now receptive to "playing a different way" under Poyet.
"The summer was a massive learning curve," says the former Middlesbrough and Wigan player. "It's the first time I haven't been wanted by a manager but I was quite happy with how I dealt with it. A couple of years ago I would undoubtedly have lashed out but I spoke to a lot of people. I listened and took advice. I kept my mouth shut, I kept my head down, I kept training each day. A lot of the time I was running on my own."
Not that life in Sunderland's deep freeze was easy: "Emotions are flying around, you get a lot of anger you need to release, you want to play and get the buzz. When Colin Cooper [Hartlepool's manager] joked that I could always get a game for him, I nearly took it. I just wanted to play football."
His eyes are shining again but Cattermole was not always quite so sanguine in the days before Di Canio recalled him to the squad before the Italian's final act, a defeat at West Brom. "There were a lot of things I was disappointed with from the club in terms of the way I was treated in the summer," he says. "I understand that's football but there are ways of doing things. All you ever want is a bit of respect."
At least Di Canio taught him to respect his body. He claimed to have helped Cattermole break a cycle of constant knee and back injuries and the player does not disagree.
"I want to stay fit," he says. "That's been my only problem here really. You can talk about suspensions but that was years ago. I now spend more time in the gym than I have in the past when I was a bit more old school. I didn't really get involved in the core work before but I have a better understanding with the fitness coaches now. I'm doing everything I can to stay on the pitch and help Sunderland."
Fitness advice aside, he never connected with Di Canio. "I didn't really know him as a bloke at all," he says. "I didn't have much to do with him. He did a good job last season but it didn't really work out for him this year. I've always been quite confident and the fact he didn't fancy me didn't cause me to lose confidence but it was tortuous. I came very close to leaving a couple of times in the summer. The way it was going I'd have left happily but I'm here now and while I'm a Sunderland player I'll give everything to the cause to get us out of trouble."
That mission continues on Sunday when Newcastle want revenge for April's 3-0 defeat by Di Canio's side at St James' Park. "No footballer who hasn't won a league game all season is going to feel confident," Cattermole says. "But the derby means so much to people and we're going to give it absolutely everything we've got."
He has already bought into Poyet's vision: "The way Gus wants me to play is a lot different to how I've built my career. He wants me to play more football. He's demanding and has got us training with a higher intensity, although he's a lot more relaxed than the old manager. He wants us to enjoy our jobs.
"I believe in him. He's unbelievably intelligent but he's not going to turn us round overnight. The only way the club will go forward is if he's given time. He's proved at Brighton that his football philosophy is a good one. Give him a chance and he'll be a success."