Premier League Career: Swansea City (2011-2012), Tottenham Hotspur (2012-2013), Cardiff City (2013-2014), Queens Park Rangers (2014-2015), Southampton (2015), Liverpool FC (2016)
Defender Steven Caulker has already played for six different Premier League clubs. He will be hoping to reach the heights of the top-flight again. Currently at Queens Park Rangers in the Championship, Caulker has opened up in 2017 about a dark and grim period in his life which saw him battle mental illness. In recent years, the product of the Tottenham Hotspur academy has lost his way in his career but his courage in speaking out deserves praise and many will hope to see him back to his best in the near future.
Caulker supported his hometown club Brentford in his youth. Despite being a talented athlete as a teenager, especially at 400m, Caulker chose to pursue a career in football. It was one of his youth coaches who saw traits of a central defender in the player and encouraged him to move back from his early days when Caulker was trying out a career as a central midfielder.
He impressed at youth level with Tottenham and signed his first professional contract with the north London club in July 2009. It was time for Caulker to go and play at first-team level. For the 2009-2010 season, he was sent out on-loan to League One outfit Yeovil Town, alongside a fellow future Tottenham first-team player in Ryan Mason. He impressed throughout his loan period with them, starting 44 games. After a brief cameo with Tottenham in a League Cup defeat to Arsenal in September 2010, he signed a contract extension and went out on-loan again, this time to Bristol City. Again, he did well and despite his loan spell being cut short by a knee cartilage injury in March 2011, he was voted Bristol City’s Young Player of the Year.
Another loan would follow in 2011-2012 but this time, it would be in the Premier League with newly-promoted Swansea City. He made his top-flight debut in Swansea’s opening game; a 4-0 defeat to Manchester City. Unfortunately, a collision with the goalpost at the Emirates Stadium ruled him out of action for three months. After this absence, he became a regular fixture in the Swansea side, featuring 26 times as the south Welsh club finished an excellent 11th in their maiden Premier League campaign.
In the summer of 2012, he represented the Great Britain team during the football tournament at the 2012 London Olympics. In the same year, he won his one and only international cap with England and scored too in the 4-2 defeat to Sweden in Gothenburg.
In 2012-2013, Caulker would spend the entire season with his parent club. He made his Premier League bow for Tottenham as a half-time substitute in a home win over Queens Park Rangers in September 2012. A fortnight later, he scored his first Tottenham goal in a 2-0 home win against Aston Villa and would add another away at Manchester City in November, although this would end in a narrow 2-1 defeat. He was contracted to Tottenham until 2016 but when newly-promoted Cardiff City made a bid of £8 million for the player, Spurs accepted the offer and Caulker was heading back to Wales but this time on a permanent basis.
A lot was expected considering the fee paid by the Bluebirds and he would justify the price tag, scoring five goals and playing every single minute of the campaign. Highlights included two goals in a 3-1 victory over relegation rivals Fulham and a headed winner in the first Premier League Welsh derby as Cardiff edged out Swansea 1-0. However, Caulker couldn’t prevent his side from being relegated as they finished bottom of the Premier League. Unfortunately, Caulker’s career has fizzled out pretty dramatically since. He stayed in the top-flight following Cardiff’s demise by joining Queens Park Rangers. Although he scored in a home draw with Stoke City, Caulker’s form was not as strong as it had been at Cardiff and he experienced the bitter pain of relegation in back-to-back seasons.
Nevertheless, Southampton signed the centre-back on a loan deal in July 2015 which was meant to last the whole campaign. He failed to break-up the formidable axis of Jose Fonte and Virgil van Dijk and played just eight times in all competitions for the Saints. After an insipid display in the 6-1 League Cup battering by Liverpool FC, Caulker would never play for Southampton again. In January 2016, he joined Liverpool FC on yet another loan deal and featured three times, all as a substitute. He did claim one assist and it was a big one too, as Adam Lallana scored a 95th minute winner in the incredible 5-4 victory over Norwich City.
Caulker returned to Queens Park Rangers but continued to struggle to find his best form. In the summer of 2017, he admitted in an interview with The Guardian about struggles with mental illness, plus addictions to drinking and gambling. He said: “For too long I’ve hated everything about myself and I needed to learn to love myself again. I miss the game like crazy. I don’t feel as if I’ve enjoyed playing football since Cardiff. I don’t want to type my name into Google and just see a list of humiliating stories. I want people to remember I am a footballer who was good enough to represent his country at 20 and still has 10 years left in the game.”
“Wherever the opportunity arises, I’m just thankful still to be alive.”
It is hard to believe that he is still only 25. If he can beat his demons, Steven Caulker still has a future in the game and the chance to fulfil his early talent.