Steven Caulker has been on a remarkable journey through his professional football career.
The 30-year-old is perhaps best known for bursting on to the scene with Tottenham Hotspur and gaining cult hero status for his unexpected move to Liverpool that included stints as a striker.
That, and the fact that Caulker is a one-cap wonder for England having scored in the famous 4-2 defeat to Sweden in 2012 where Zlatan Ibrahimovic bagged four goals and a 30-yard bicycle kick.
Caulker chasing AFCON glory
However, Caulker’s recent career has been far less publicised and it might come to the surprise of some supporters that he will be competing at the Africa Cup of Nations this month.
The BBC revealed in December that FIFA had given Caulker clearance to play international football for Sierra Leone with the West African nation duly calling him up for their AFCON squad.
The 30-year-old could make his official debut as early as Tuesday with Sierra Leone set to face off against top opposition in Algeria, Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea for a place in the round of 16.
Turning his career and life around
But regardless of how Caulker might perform at one of the world’s finest international tournaments, there’s no escaping the fact that an AFCON call-up is another positive yardstick in his resurgence.
We say that because Caulker has turned his life around for the better in recent years to overcome gambling and alcohol problems, as well as depression, as explained in the Daily Mail.
The British newspaper caught up with the former Liverpool man ahead of AFCON to talk about his inspiring journey since getting sober and putting his footballing career back on track in Turkey.
Caulker’s links to Sierra Leone
Caulker’s strong bonds to Sierra Leone – the birthplace of his grandfather – are fascinatingly outlined with the central defender having funded the construction of a school in the Kambia district.
Caulker raised £25,000 selling shirts signed by players such as Gareth Bale during his time at Cardiff City and topped it up with his own money to pay for a six-classroom facility for 400 children.
While the Ebola outbreak has made it difficult at times, Caulker has nonetheless embarked on multiple visits to the country and even took a trip to his grandad’s old village of Manor-by-the-Sea.
“Sierra Leone is a third world country,” Caulker explained. “There’s a lot of struggle there and I’ve always tried to do my bit and be hands-on because of my grand-father who moved to London in the 1950s and married my Scottish gran, Jessie.
“After Ebola, I met families who had lost their parents and was involved in projects after the landslides in 2017. Football is one of the things that brings them joy.
“Our players who grew up in Sierra Leone inspire those children who think they could be like Kei Kamara or Mustapha Bundu. It is exciting for me. Yes, I want to experience international football, to play at the highest level.”
Caulker impressing in Turkey
And it’s nothing less than Caulker deserves having turned his career around in Turkey during spells with Alanyaspor, Fenerbahçe and Gaziantep across which he has maintained his sobriety.
Caulker has now been sober for three years and admits that he’s open to a return to the Premier League despite his success overseas, explaining: “Coming away served a purpose.
“Gave me a footing on the road to sobriety but I’m over three years sober now and to be back home close to my son, my family and friends, my support network would be brilliant.”
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However, before any Premier League reunions are discussed in seriousness, Caulker will be hoping to inspire Sierra Leone to success at AFCON as they prepare to get underway in Cameroon.
Reflecting on what it meant to him in the context of emerging from the lower points of his career, the Gaziantep defender said: “I called my dad and said imagine that after all these years.”
And that says it all really because regardless of how Sierra Leone perform at AFCON or if a Premier League return is indeed on the cards, Caulker’s personal and career turnaround is just so inspiring.