The story of Steven Caulker’s career until a few years ago was one of unfulfilled potential but now 28, the former Tottenham defender is on the road to redemption both on and off the pitch after winning his battle with alcohol and gambling addictions.
Caulker was thought of very highly while coming through the ranks at Spurs and was expected to go on to bigger things after enjoying his breakthrough year for the North Londoners during the 2012/13 season under Andre Villas-Boas and subsequently winning his first England cap.
However, the central defender was sold to Cardiff City in 2013 after falling out with Daniel Levy and moved to QPR in the subsequent summer after the Bluebirds were relegated to the Championship.
Caulker never really managed to hit the expected heights during his time at Loftus Road and was eventually released by the club in 2018.
The defender has revealed that he was suffering from drinking and gambling problems during his time at Tottenham and QPR while claiming that the media scrutiny made his situation worse.
Caulker told talkSPORT: “It was definitely a vicious cycle. There would be one problem I’d try to break away from and address and then something else came up.
“All my problems were just building up and I couldn’t cope. It wasn’t until I was able to break away from football that I was able to get clean.
“My self-worth was completely and utterly shattered. I don’t recognise the person I was then.
“The media coverage was just relentless too. I get these guys have jobs to do and they have bosses to report to, but when you’re going through something like that it’s so serious.
”Many people I know with this problem haven’t made it out the other side.
“It’s not just a story to run, it’s somebody’s life at the end of the day and then your family has to witness it all first hand.”
The defender revealed that the 12-step programme of abstinence helped him recover from his problems and has kept him straight and narrow.
“The 12-step fellowship has been everything for me. It’s a programme for addicts, who struggle with things such as alcohol use, gambling, sex and food,” Caulker explained.
“I was part of that for many years but I never fully surrendered to an illness. I’m 6ft 3in so my mentality was always just to keep working harder and harder and everything would be ok in the end.
“Once I fully immersed myself into the fellowship that was asked of me I was able to find a sponsor who took me through the right steps.
“Part of my daily routine is praying and writing a gratitude list, as well as speaking to newcomers.
”I’ve got two guys at the moment who I speak with regularly about any concerns they may have.
“That’s what the programme is all about; having a support network of like-minded individuals where you don’t feel judged.”
Now 28 and in his prime, the defender has managed to rebuild his career with Turkish side Alanyaspor, who are now sitting top of the Super Lig.
Caulker has been earning rave reviews for some of his performances and he admitted that he is as happy as he has ever been in his career so far.
He said: “I feel great right now to be honest with you. What I loved about coming here was that I had a fresh start and a completely clean slate.
“People knew about me from my CV, but they didn’t know about me as a person.
“That was nice as we were able to meet each other at face value. I’ve got some friends here now who are arguably my closest friends in football.
“I feel like everything happens for a reason. On the field I’ve finally been able to realise my potential.
”For many, many years I was playing at 50 to 60 per cent of my capability.
“Without the mental chains of addiction I’ve been able to enjoy my life on and off the pitch.”
Now that the former Spurs man is playing his best football, he admits he has the dream of returning to the top level one day and showing what he can do.
Caulker qualifies to play for Scotland through his grandmother and revealed that he reached out to manager Steve Clarke and his assistant Steven Reid last year to express a desire to represent the Tartan Army.
He said: “I was asked to play for Scotland at the age of 19, but I had pressure to go down another route.
“Things have obviously changed and I would love to play for Scotland. I’ve made my feelings clear, so it’s about continuing what I’m doing at the moment and keeping my fingers crossed for the best.
“You look at the likes of Zlatan at the moment, who looks like he can play on until he’s 50.
“I hope I can continue going for another 10 years and see where that takes me.
“I’ve got to look after my body and my mind. My body is feeling very good, I guess after a few years of not playing [regularly] has actually helped me.
“I’ve got my eye on a lot of top European leagues, and in particular Serie A. Several of my former English teammates are over there doing well, it’s a really exciting league.
“Having stepped away from the Premier League bubble, you realise there is so more football around the world to explore.
“I would never rule out a return to England either. I feel like I’m a different man today, so if that challenge was thrown at me again I believe I’d have the tools to deal with it.”
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