An exclusive interview with Steven Saunders which first appeared in Issue 23 (vs Celtic) of ‘Steelmen’ – Motherwell’s matchday magazine.
Steven Saunders’ future will lie away from Fir Park, but the former Scotland International insists he will look back on his time at Motherwell with great fondness, despite two-years of injury hell.
The former Queen’s Park youngster has been told his contract will not be renewed when it expires at the end of May, bringing to an end a five-year stint in North Lanarkshire.
In that time, the 22-year old has played 74 times in Claret and Amber, including ten in European competition, scoring two goals.
After playing for both the Scotland U19s and 21’s whilst a ‘Well player, he won his first full Scotland cap against the Faroe Islands back in November 2010, introduced as a second-half sub for Phil Bardsley in a three-nil win when Craig Levein was boss.
Lining up in those games, involved in matches against the likes of AS Nancy, Steaua Bucharest and the Cup Final squad were certainly the high points, but his career at Fir Park will always be tainted with the harrowing tale of a succession of horrific injuries.
He sustained a groin injury two months before McCall arrived and an ankle ligament injury two months after his appointment,
At the start of the 2011/12 season, the big defender had just won his spot back in the side when disaster struck – a ruptured Achilles whilst on Scotland U21 duty against Norway kept him out for almost nine months. He would only feature once more that campaign, a last-minute sub appearance against Hibs as the season drew to a close.
His luck wouldn’t improve this year when, after feeling a niggle during a pre-season match at Starks Park, a scan revealed he would require a clean-up operation on his knee that ruled him out until Christmas.
In that time, Simon Ramsden, Shaun Hutchinson and Adam Cummins have cemented their spot in the first-team meaning Saunders’ options have been limited to the Under 20s.
And although there is a resigned acceptance that he won’t be a Motherwell player beyond the summer, he doesn’t hold any grudges.
“I’ve been told my contract won’t be renewed at the end of the current season,” he told ‘Steelmen’, Motherwell’s Matchday Magazine.
“To be fair, I was expecting it as I have hardly played first-team football in two years and the gaffer was honest enough to tell me that I wasn’t likely to feature ahead of the boys there just now.
“I certainly wouldn’t change anything about it [the last five years]. I joined a good club and got a really good grounding and played a lot of matches for the first-team when I initially arrived – I made my debut about six months after moving from Queen’s Park.
“The last two years have been very frustrating but I can see things from the manager’s point of view. I was available for the first few months that he was here but have spent the best part of two years out injured. It’s understandable given he’s not seen a lot of me and has his own ideas and plans which is fair enough.
“I don’t look back with any anger or regrets though. Injuries are part and parcel of the game and you just need to get on with it.”
Saunders will now spend the rest of the campaign with Jonatan Johansson’s Under 20s side as he keeps himself fit.
His next big career goal is to find a new club and kick-start his career, possibly down south.
“Obviously it has been tough to battle back from two pretty bad injuries but I have been back training every day since November and playing regularly for the Under 20s.
“When I first got back at Christmas, the weather made things worse for me.
“I wasn’t able to play on the Astro but I am now almost in double figures in terms of games for the Under 20s and feel sharp and approaching something like my best.
“I need to keep myself ticking over. I am hoping someone; somewhere will take a look at me, maybe a trial so I can get myself going and get my career back on track.
“To be honest, I’ve not had any contact from any other clubs. Agents tell you this and that but certainly there has been nothing concrete.
“I would certainly consider taking a chance and moving down south. I know there was a bit of talk about a few clubs interested in me a while back I am hoping I can maybe reignite some of that.
“They will all ask the same questions though; are you fit, why have you not featured but I hope to answer all those questions.”
Saunders will be able to draw on several experiences during his time at Fir Park that he hopes will set him up for his future career.
The defender has achieved a lot in his five years, and worked with no less than four managers, alongside Academy Director Gordon Young who initially brought him to the club to play with the Under 19s.
“I’ve enjoyed some brilliant times here,” he recalled.
“I have worked under four different managers – Mark McGhee, Jim Gannon, Craig Brown and Stuart McCall – and like to think I’ve picked up things from all of them. They have all different ideas about the game and that’s been an advantage.
“I was part of the squad that got to the Scottish Cup Final but I think the European adventures was probably my highlight.
“Playing against Llanelli AFC, Flamurtari and Steaua Bucharest was great – I was only 18 and racked up about ten matches in European competition. That experience will hopefully set me in good stead for the future, as will the Scotland cap.”