In 2012, Steven Caulker was a young English international whose physique and body language reminded us of Rio Ferdinand. Ten years later, he is 30 years old and about to make his African Cup of Nations debut wearing the jersey of Sierra Leone, his grandfather’s country. This change of sporting nationality should not be seen as an opportunity to compete in an international tournament, but the fruit of a long repair work. Because between gambling addictions, alcohol and suicide cravings, the former hope of Tottenham has come a long way.
Thanks to the meeting between England and Sweden, November 14, 2012 is a milestone. Indeed, each half of this match had its share of notable events. The second half saw Zlatan Ibrahimović take to the skies to sign an exceptional acrobatic kickback (which would finish Prix Puskas a year later) while the first saw a young England defender, Steven Caulker, score for his first and only selection. with the Three Lions. But if this is only one goal among many others for the giant of Malmö, that of the Englishman represented much more: a clearing in a sky which was already beginning to darken.
Happiness was not in the loan
In the Tottenham reserves, three young boys of the generation 91 catch the light: midfielder Ryan Mason, winger Andros Townsend and defender Steven Caulker. For the latter, the superlatives are already out: the rival of Arsenal has within it the new Rio Ferdinand, just that. Although impressive with young teams, Caulker must first cut his teeth in low division clubs to prove to the board some Spurs that he can trust him. Loan season begins and Feltham Rock’s first stop is called League One boarder Yeovil Town. Accompanied by his acolytes Ryan Mason and Andros Townsend, he manages to do well. He plays 44 games, is voted the club’s best player and above all, lands in the typical team of the decade according to supporters of the Glovers. It’s not enough to get started in the Premier League. Second stop: Bristol City. This is where the trouble will start.
At 19, he found himself alone in an apartment in the city center whose neighboring houses were nightclubs and casinos. Quickly, he does not hesitate to cross the doors of these establishments. “A staff member [de Bristol City] told me that I had been spotted in the casino at 3am ” he confesses au Guardian in 2017. But while he expected more scolding, the only “advice” given to him is that his extra-sporting activities do not affect his performance on the field. This crime going unpunished, no reason to drop out. His employer, however, is not blind. On his third loan at Swansea, Caulker wanted to clear the ball that went straight into his team’s goal. His knee hits the post violently and pushes it away from the meadows for ten weeks. The Spurs take the opportunity to send him to the Sporting Chance program, an organization founded by Tony Adams that helps professional athletes overcome their mental health problems. In vain : “I hadn’t suffered enough to make me want to stop. And when I got back to Tottenham (at the end of his loan, editor’s note), I stayed later and later in the casinos. ” This behavior hides a deep discomfort which is slowly eating away at Steven Caulker. He is ashamed of his gambling addiction, so to drown his worries, he drinks. Except that the problems know how to swim in alcohol.
A long decline
Despite this, the central defender is starting to make his hole in Tottenham. However, a quarrel with Daniel Levy calls everything into question. The England international is enjoying life way too much on a trip to the Bahamas and forcing the president of the Spurs to come and get it. The British businessman threatens him: “Either you change or you go” . Taking this sentence as a challenge, Caulker flew to Cardiff during the 2013 summer transfer window. A momentarily beneficial decision: “Everything was amazing. I was captain, manager Malky Mackay knew my problems and supported me. But the second he was fired, all my demons came back ” . The worse is yet to come. The following year, he left the northern suburbs of London for good and put his bags down at the Queens Park Rangers.
Fate quickly gives him the opportunity to prove to his old club that he was wrong in letting him go. From the second day of the Premier League, QPR moves to Tottenham’s lawn and returns home with a 4-0 defeat which definitely lowers the morale of the defender. He leaves the field with the impression of having missed his career. The rest of the season is a long Stations of the Cross. The defeats pile up and the supporters take him to task. After relegation, Caulker no longer made an effort and found himself almost as often in the sobering-up cell as in the field. A new injury and a huge amount of money lost in a bet put an end to him. He thinks about suicide. The only reason preventing him from taking action is the presence of his son, ” my safe place » .
A cathartic interview
It took him almost four years to rebuild himself stone by stone. The first step was this long interview for theGuardian in 2017. Caulker confesses it all: his gambling addiction, alcohol and suicidal thoughts. Then he gave new meaning to his life by raising funds on behalf of charities helping countries marked by poverty such as Sierra Leone, his grandfather’s land. “It changed me. I know better how to distinguish my desires and my needs. For example, I am now wondering if I need a shirt at 200 pounds eachHe said with a smile. Then, after having traveled around Southampton, Liverpool and Dundee again, he decided to take the plunge: he left England for Turkey in January 2019. A salutary change of scenery because the future Sierra Leonean international felt he had need to get away from treacherous Albion to build a healthier environment.
If since his arrival, he has already managed to play 87 Süperlig matches – divided between Alanyaspor and Gaziantep – it is thanks to a regained hygiene of life. Sober for two years and on an antidepressant, Steven Caulker also follows a program to avoid sinking into his old ways. “Looking back, the most frustrating thing is that I was never able to harness my potential. I was on the pitch playing at 50-60% of my ability“, He blurted out to the BBC in October 2020. Now in full possession of his means, he is ready to help Sierra Leone shine at this African Cup of Nations. First step this Tuesday against the defending Algerian. After all, this is not the first mountain that stands in Steven Caulker’s path.
By Aurélien Bayard
Interview by Steven Caulker collected by the Guardian and the BBC