NORTHERN EXPOSURE: Sunderland have never been in better nick
15 August 2009 01:17
No one does it better than North East football. Allow two promising young local lads to leave, so Sunderland go on to pay an absolute fortune to get them back.
Sunderland have now paid £11million for two players who started their careers kicking a ball in the youth leagues of the North East.
Michael Chopra and Lee Cattermole were quickly identified by Newcastle and Middlesbrough respectively as kids of course and they passed through their academies with flying colours, both with the backing of supportive parents and coaches convinced they were headed for their first teams.
Back home: Sunderland have paid a fortune to bring Lee Cattermole back to the North East but the England Under 21 star could prove to be a shrewd signing
But as they reached the age of maturity, their paths to local and national recognition were blocked and in both cases, for different reasons, they were allowed to leave.
No recent manager at Newcastle believed Chopra was good enough, and they spent a fortune on strikers trying to find goals from many different sources - not least of course the £15m needed to bring a certain Geordie home.
Chopra went to Cardiff for half a million and less than a year but a goal or two later, Roy Keane paid 10 times that amount and played him on the right wing.
Chopra, who returned permanently to Cardiff in the summer where he will no doubt thrive once more, was not without his off-fields troubles, which was the deciding factor in Middlesbrough's decision to sell Cattermole to Wigan a year ago.
Middlesbrough know only too how Teesside can be a distracting home for its own. Just ask Jonathan Woodgate.
In hindsight, it certainly proved far from Gareth Southgate's wisest decision as the Middlesbrough manager struggled for steel at the heart of his midfield in a relegation season.
Cattermole's replacement Didier Digard looked hopelessly out of his depth in the heat of the relentless Premier League battles.
Cattermole meanwhile thrived under Steve Bruce's guidance.
There are raw edges. Discipline is a problem he needs to address. He picked up 10 cautions and two red cards and the full-blooded tackles which left Digard and Joey Barton out for months demonstrated a love of the full-blooded challenge.
And he is back on home territory, where he already has a chequered past. Bruce and others he can trust will no doubt be keeping a close eye on his extra curricula activities and choice of friends.
Bruce is clearly keen to continue nurturing a talent which was very much at home on the international stage in the Under 21s championships in Sweden and has paid almost twice the £3.5m which cash-strapped Southgate and his board, in their defence, believed was just too good to turn down 12 months ago.
He goes straight into Saturday's side to face Bolton and, with Kenwyne Jones expected to arrive back from the Caribbean on Friday afternoon, Bruce is also likely to field new signings Darren Bent and Frazier Campbell and give the rest of the country the opportunity to see Lorik Cana, who may prove to be the most astute addition from his £25m spree.
Bruce and Sunderland supporters are right to expect Cattermole will be much more successful than Chopra at the Stadium of Light.
He is at an advantage because he does not have the Geordie roots, is not paid to score goals and in fact plays in a role Wearsiders have grown to appreciate, if not adore. Just ask Kevin Ball.
Sunderland do not need to be reminded they have a season to establish themselves as the North East's top dogs in the absence of you know who.
With the appointment of Bruce, a few promising signings to join the club's most expensive and supposedly talented squad, plus a fine crop of youngsters on the fringes, I'm sorry Newcastle, but Sunderland have arguably never been in better nick.
All they need to do now is win a few matches.