Steven Caulker has admitted he wasted the opportunity given to him by Dundee and Neil McCann to rebuild his life and career at Dens Park.
The 29-year-old England cap was a surprise signing for the Dark Blues in 2018 after his QPR contract was ripped up while he battled addiction to alcohol and gambling as well as depression.
The move north of the border to live with family in Fife was meant as a fresh start but the former Liverpool and Tottenham defender has revealed he “suffered a couple of relapses during my time there”.
Now playing in Turkey and moving on to a new international possibility after calling time on his hopes to feature for Scotland, Caulker does look back on his time at Dundee fondly.
Speaking to the Scotsman, he said: “Certainly, from my side, I don’t regret it. It was part of the journey.
“Neil reached out to me and offered me the opportunity to come and play for Dundee. People question why Dundee is on my CV. If you know me, you understand it.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it. The people were great.”
Relapses at Dundee but sober since
He added: “I suffered a couple of relapses during my time there.
“It was a difficult period while trying to get sober, as anyone out there who has experienced it will know first-hand.
“Walking away from Dundee, while painful for both parties especially when reflecting on what could have been, was important on a personal note because those subsequent six months out of football helped me get sober.
“I’ve been sober ever since.”
Rosenborg and hindsight
Caulker was released on a free at the end of the summer transfer window in 2018 after featuring 17 times for the Dark Blues.
That was after the club turned down a record bid from Norwegian side Rosenborg in April. Just four months later Caulker triggered a clause in his contract to leave for free.
“We always had a plan that I would come there and rebuild and move back to the Championship or wherever it might be. So yes, we turned that Norway deal down after what, five games?” he added.
“It was crazy.
“But hindsight is a wonderful thing. A few months later there was nothing on the table.
“My difficulties off the pitch were not worthy of people trusting me and investing in me.”
Part of his recovery, which began in the unlikely environment of a parish church in Kinross, has involved getting in touch with people to “make amends”. That has included Andre Villas-Boas at Tottenham and his Dens Park boss McCann.
He added: “I felt that I owed Neil and Dundee an apology.
“As far as I am concerned, I am a professional, I am paid to be a professional and I don’t feel like I was a professional (at Dundee) and that is something that I often look back on.
“There were so many opportunities that I was given around the UK at various clubs that I wasted.
“I still very much support the club and I support Neil McCann, we’ve had conversations since.
“And I was buzzing when they went up.”
From Scotland to Sierra Leone
Now signed for Fenerbahce, but on loan at mid-table Turkish side Gaziantep, things are back on the up for Caulker.
Having earned the move to Istanbul after impressing at Alanyaspor, the central defender is hoping to make his next step in international football with Sierra Leone, the country of his grandfather’s birth.
They face Morocco B in an inofficial friendly tonight. Paperwork permitting he’s hoping to play in January’s Africa Cup of Nations as Sierra Leone make their debut in the competition.
And that means his aspirations to play for Scotland have ended.
“It is over, yes,” he says.
“I declared my interest to play for Scotland. I wanted to play international football, again.
“Obviously I have had a turbulent time in my career, but I felt like I had something to offer. I just asked if they would watch me, basically.
“I did call him (Clarke) because I wanted to know first-hand what his views were.
“He told me quite frankly that firstly, he was pleased with what his defenders had done, which I respected, and secondly, because of coronavirus he was not able to get to Turkey to watch me.
“There are no hard feelings or anything like that.
“He was straight up with me, which is all I asked for.”