Steven Caulker turned out for Dundee in between his spells in England and Turkey

  • Published22 May 2024

Steven Caulker insists he enjoyed his six months at Dundee but also admits he can’t recall some it.

Having played in the English top flight with Tottenham Hotspur, Swansea City, Cardiff City, Queens Park Rangers, Southampton and Liverpool, it was a surprise to find the centre-half turning up at Dens Park in February 2018.

He scored on his debut and went on to make 17 appearances, with form good enough to attract a rejected bid from Rosenborg in Norway.

However, he says: “I’d lost myself at the age of 25, 26,” recounting his struggles with gambling and alcohol addictions.

“Coming from Tottenham and Liverpool, it felt like I’d been rejected from the top level,” he tells the BBC podcast Sacked in the Morning.

“I was going through the challenge of thinking I’m not good enough and I needed to find that self-belief.”

Prior to his Dundee move, Caulker had gone public with his mental health issues, giving candid interviews on the fortune frittered away and the drinking to numb the humiliation of those losses.

“It made it awkward in the dressing room, awkward when talking to potential clubs, who were worried if they could trust me,” the Sierra Leone international says.

“I’d drink. I’d black out. Eight times out of 10 times it would be fine with alcohol, but I had incidents at Dundee when I didn’t know what had happened.

“I got hooked on roulette as a teenager – using ‘crack machines’ in the bookmakers. Put your first pound in and the world spins round.

“By 19, I was in rehab. It doesn’t stop until you run out of money. I wasn’t earning crazy amounts, but it’s pretty crazy to be a Premier League football without a penny.

“Gambling led to drinking. It’s a method of dealing with the shame, drinking to block it out.”

Pirlo worst boss, Mackay the best…

Caulker declined the choice of another campaign at Dundee and trained on his own for five months before Turkish club Alanyaspor took a chance.

“I think people were frightened about what they might be signing,” he says. “I knew the madness was behind me, but I had to prove it.”

He spent three seasons at Alanyaspor and went on to play for two other Super Lig sides.

And that brings us to Caulker’s choice of worst manager, since he was at Fatih Karagumruk during Andrea Pirlo’s unhappy stint.

“It was a real anti-climax,” he says. “One of the best players to ever play the game and a really cool guy, but as a manager he offered nothing.

“But he’s still learning, he’s open-minded and I’m sure he will get better and better.”

Caulker played under Jurgen Klopp, Brendan Rodgers and Francesco Farioli, but his best memories are from working with Malky Mackay at Cardiff.

“I was so impatient at Spurs. Leaving at 21 after playing 28 games that season is pretty mad,” he says.

“When I went to Cardiff, I wasn’t feeling great and Malky put his arm around me and made me feel good about myself.

“He made me captain when Craig Bellamy and Mark Hudson weren’t playing, which was an unbelievable show of trust.”

Andrea Pirlo
Image caption,Andrea Pirlo lasted just under a year with Turkish Super Lig club Fatih Karagumruk

Language barrier & working from home in first managerial post

At the start of this year, Caulker began his first steps in management following a chance meeting on holiday.

He took over as player-boss at fifth-tier Malaga City before visa issues put a premature stop to the venture.

“I was in Spain and got talking to an academy and one thing led to another and I went straight into coaching with the first team,” he explains.

“I’d just turned 32 and walked into a relegation battle, with poor Spanish.

“But maybe that language barrier was positive, especially when I was frustrated. When things get translated, you get that extra time to consider what you’re going to say.

“Doing both roles is really challenging, but it’s interesting. As a player, you are friends with everyone in the dressing room to a certain extent. As a manager, you need to keep that distance.”

Forced to return to England, Caulker initially tried to keep going remotely, but working from home as a manager proved a stretch.

From Dublin hangover to Liverpool debut

Caulker has been in touch with “plenty of non-league clubs” about continuing his coaching path but is not quite ready to hang up the boots since he wants to keep playing for Sierra Leone.

He is well placed to know that opportunities can come knocking when you least expect.

After all, this is a man who was recovering from a night out in a Dublin hotel in January 2016, depressed about being out of the picture at Southampton, when his agent called with news that Liverpool wanted him.

“I was lying there thinking ‘what have I done now? I don’t want to answer that,'” he says, laughing.

“He was telling me ‘Liverpool are making an offer, get yourself home’.

“I probably had the worst game of my career for Southampton against Liverpool. We lost 6-1, so I thought ‘this doesn’t make any sense’.

“A couple of days later, I was making my debut up front against Arsenal!”