The former Sunderland captain Lee Cattermole has admitted he twice came close to quitting the club in the summer because he had been frozen out by Paolo Di Canio.
Cattermole was stripped of the captaincy last season by Di Canio and told to find a new club when he questioned the abrasive nature of the Italian's management style. He turned to experienced figures in the game who told him to keep his head down and say nothing, but his days were still numbered.
The former England Under-21 midfielder was called upon by Di Canio in the disastrous 3-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion that was to prove the manager's final game in charge.
Cattermole clashed with the Italian at full-time as Di Canio pointed the finger at his players for the failure that had left them bottom of the Premier League. The following day, another row between the club's manager and his players merely emphasised how the relationship had disintegrated and Di Canio was sacked.
That justified Cattermole's decision to stay in the summer, but on the eve of another crucial clash with North-east rivals Newcastle and now restored to the first team, he said: "I was very close to leaving a couple of times. For whatever reason, it didn't happen. The way it was going, I would have left happily. I wasn't part of the manager's plans and that can happen in football.
"Yes, it was torturous, but I've always been quite confident and I've got a lot of experience of managers who have backed me. I didn't lose confidence over anything he did or the fact he didn't fancy me. I worked hard with the hope of getting a chance.
"Things happened in the summer and there were a lot of things I was disappointed with from the club in terms of the way I was treated. I understand that is football but there are ways of doing things. All you ever want is a bit of respect and [caretaker manager] Kevin Ball gave me that straight away.
"I am more mature now, 100 per cent. The summer was a massive learning curve for me. It is the first time I have not been wanted by a manager.
"I turned round and I was quite happy with how I dealt with it. I spoke to a lot of senior players who have been in the same situation. I listened and took advice. I kept my mouth shut. I kept my head down. The only thing I could affect was what happened if I got my chance. I kept training each day. A lot of the time I was running on my own."
Now Cattermole, restored to the centre of the Sunderland midfield by Ball and kept there by new manager Gus Poyet, knows the team – who have yet to win a Premier League game this season – must get something in Sunday's derby clash.
"I don't think the dressing room was ever split," he said. "I've been in dressing rooms where there have been cliques and little corners, but it wasn't like that here.
"Yes, it's been frustrating. I've been out of the picture but I've come back in and I'm enjoying my football again. I think I'm playing well, but as a team we're not playing great.
"We have chatted about the importance of the derby this morning. The manager has made it clear to everyone how important it is – as if people didn't already know. Come Sunday, when they arrive, they will certainly know.
"The last six months have been very hard to put it into words, you can't really do that. I'm happy now and I'm playing again.
"I've worked hard and I've come back from a serious knee injury. I always felt if I got a chance to come back in I'd have a good season. I'll do everything I can to help Sunderland get out of the position they are in."