EVEN as an eight-year-old in kickabouts against older brother Gavin and his team of bigger, stronger mates the one thing that would drive Lee Cattermole mad was being regarded as just a kid.
We would go out on the pitch oldies versus youngies,'' he recalled. I was only small and the older lads used to kick me all over. But I didn't mind, in fact, I liked them getting stuck into me. It meant they took me seriously. I didn't like to be underestimated.
He still doesn't.
Suggesting to Cattermole that captaining Sunderland against Birmingham City this afternoon in front of around 40,000 fans might be a daunting prospect elicits a look of bemusement.
He is, after all, the youngest player to have skippered both Middlesbrough and Wigan Athletic, pulled on the armband for England Under- 21s and has led pretty much every team he represented at youth level.
Some footballers may covet the armband but the fiercely competitive Cattermole commands authority just by being on the pitch.
Ever since I came in at Middlesbrough I have never wanted to be regarded as a young player. I don't like to be classed as a young lad who can't take on man's work. You are either a useful member of the team or you are not, age doesn't come in to it, he said.
Bruce's decision to name Cattermole as successor to Lorik Cana, with Bolo Zenden handling the club captaincy duties, was a mark of the faith the manager has in a player who in the past attracted the odd unwanted headline.
This afternoon offers the 22- year-old the opportunity to prove that he has the maturity to become a worthy heir to inspirational Sunderland leaders such as Kevin Ball, Stan Anderson, Bobby Kerr and Charlie Hurley.
As captain I'll give it my all on a Saturday and if any lads step out of line I would say my piece, that has always been my way. I don't think I would get up to too much off the field. I'll keep my head down.
It wil give me a lot more responsibility off the pitch. I know that walking around as captain of Sunderland means you have to act a little bit different in the public eye and I will have to focus on that.
Last season, I never looked at it like Lorik was the senior midfielder anyway. I always go out in matches and shout my mouth off, that is just the way I have been on a football pitch since I was eight-years-old.
But now that I'm playing with Jordan Henderson I like to advise him on positioning and help him more. It will be nice to be regarded as the old man in midfield.
It was the same at Wigan. I was beside Wilson Palacios and he was a little bit older than me but didn't speak much English so I felt that there was a responsibility on me to talk him through games to an extent.
Cattermole almost joined Sunderland 13 years ago but at the time he wearied of traipsing back and forth from his home in Stockton for training sessions at the Black Cats' centre of excellence on Wearside.
I was training too much and I wasn't living a normal kid's life, he said. Instead, he chose to join Marton FC, the breeding ground for Teesside talent like Jonathan Woodgate, Stewart Downing and Cattermole's close friend Matthew Bates.
One well-publicised night out with Bates in November 2008 led to the pair being banned from pubs and clubs across Stockton borough.
An older, wiser Cattermole this week explained that the incident was an important staging post towards him becoming a man.
Hey, I was 17 years old and I signed a great deal (at Boro), it was ridiculous, I was just a kid,'' he said.
Look at how students behave at 18-19, that's the age I was at Middlesbrough.
Everyone learns. I don't think I did too much wrong. I didn't do anything different from anyone else. I think I was going out in the wrong place.
I went to Yarm a couple of times, it's a cliquey place. I've never been violent when I've been out, I've been drunk but that's it.
I don't look back with any regrets. I just live my life and learn by my mistakes and looking at me now, I don't think I've done too badly.
I have grown up since I moved to Sunderland and even when I moved from Middlesbrough to Wigan I began to mature. I was living in Manchester by myself and I can't have had the season I had at Wigan if I wasn't living my life right.
Now I'm 22 and played 160- odd times in the Premier League, I'm not a kid.
Too old to feature for the Three Lions' Under-21 side, Cattermole could be just the type of fearless character that Fabio Capello should use to help drive forward England's next generation.
I am English and it would be stupid to say no, he vowed.
I know my bread and butter is with Sunderland but I would love to get a call-up.
I am a confident lad and if it came then I would grab it with both hands but to be honest it's not something I ever think about.
I would bring something different to the team. I don't think I am a defensive midfielder. I am high energy.
When we don't have the ball, that is when I come alive. I'm not in that centre circle passing like Carrick or Huddlestone, I get about the pitch.
I look at the lads who are announcing their retirement and it may be that they don't think they will be part of the next campaign. For me it's a case of never say never.
If I broke into the England team I would want to keep going for as long as I could. I don't see why age matters, you can't be too young or too old; all that matters is being fit. I would never hang my boots up as far as playing international football is concerned, I'll be hanging in there. They'd have to shoot me.
Cattermole accepts that there is pressure on Sunderland to show greater consistency than last year when their mid-season winless run almost undid an impressive start.
He believes that Bruce's summer transfer business has built a more resolute group of players.
That bad run was ridiculous really when you look back at it, he declared.
We have to approach things better this year and just be stronger as a team.
No disrespect to some of the lads who were here at the start of last year but the gaffer inherited a team. The gaffer has got rid of a few and will feel that we are going in to the season with his team.
When he came it was hard you can't just change it like that [clicks his fingers].
Everyone, the chairman, owner and fans have got to understand that.
The squad that plays on Saturday will be the gaffer's players. I think he has spoken to them all and they feel part of a team and are looking forward to the new season.
We all understand how he wants us to play. Saturday won't dictate the season but a win would be great, I want that more than anyone.
And Cattermole admitted his combative instincts extend into his leisure time: I play golf with a mate, Ryan, who is a pro golfer trying to make it on to the Tour and he wants to give me shots but I insist on playing him off scratch because I want the challenge of beating him properly.
I don't like playing unless it's serious.