The English Premier League is one of the best football leagues in the world, so it’s only natural and common to see the best footballers across the planet try to get a contract in one of the teams, surely if you born in England. For George Saunders things turn around in a different direction.
George Saunders is a 28-year-old pro footballer, born in London. He may have an English nationality but when it comes to football, he has a Latin touch. Saunders is one of the fewest English players who never played in England. He started at the academy of Arsenal but moved with his family to Spain in a very young age. Joined the academy of Espanyol before made his debut as a pro in 2009 with the reserves team of Villareal.
George Saunders, exceptional view in the South American football (Andrea Martinez)
Saunders didn’t find his place in Spain, even though he was the only English player who was called to the U-17 Catalunya national team and tried to revive his career in clubs like Levante B and Eldense. He was about to return to his home country when he received an offer from Leyton Orient. Unfortunately, the club couldn’t afford to spend money on him due to his lack of experience.
Saunders didn’t give up and tried his luck with Woking. “I went to Woking for a game but the football was like rugby. It was horrible, disgusting”, says Saunders. “I said to my dad, ‘I can’t play that football, I’d rather knock it on the head and go and do something else.”
In 2013 Luis Valero, a lawyer and a friend of the family, decided to send Saunders’s skills tape to Colombian major club, America Cali, who played for the first time in the second division. The coach liked what he saw and decided to sign Saunders for six months. After many thoughts, Saunders received his father’s blessing and moved 5000 miles away.
The impression was very good at first, the fans loved him. But then America lost in the promotion game and the fans went crazy. For Saunders it was a very scary experience as he told that the players needed a tight security from the police. Despite being one of the best players, America’s owner wanted to sign another foreign player and had to make Saunders to leave. According Saunders, the owner pushed him to leave the club after telling the media that Saunders came drunk to practice.
Saunders with his pregnant girlfriend, Nana (Andrea Martinez)
Saunders didn’t have a choice and decided to sign with a small club from Bogota, Fortaleza, which played at that time in the second division. At the same time he also met Nana, America’s fan and his girlfriend. They are expecting for a baby who will make them a family. He did well in Fortaleza and managed to promote the club to the first division for the first time ever – on America Cali’s expense.
But luck wasn’t part of Saunders’s life and “El Britanico” (The British, his Spanish nickname) suffered from an injury which made Fortaleza to give up on him and loan him to Union Magdalena, Saunders’s worst experience in Colombia. “It’s so hot. Play at three o’clock in the afternoon and it’s 40 degrees. I couldn’t even breathe.
“The pitches were horrible, the training facilities were a disaster. There were dry, big holes in the pitch”, says Saunders. “I twisted my ankle two or three times. I was thinking ‘what have I got myself into’.
First-division side, Patriotas FC, was his next stop in 2014, but Saunders, a center midfielder, couldn’t adjust the new role that the coach put him as a right back . After another six months there, Saunders found another team, Envigado FC, from Envigado, the home-town of the famous drugs baron, Pablo Escobar.
In the game against Nacional. He may meet them in Medellin’s derby if he’ll join Independiente Medellin (Walter Uran)
Envigado usually plays with young talented players since they have one of the best scouts in Colombia. This club raised players like James Rodriguez, Juan Quintero, Fredy Guarin and Dorlan Pabon. It was only natural that Saunders will become one of the leaders in this team. His advantage of being used to a different style of football like in England actually helps Envigado because he gives them toughness, something which is a bit missing in the Colombian league. He has improved a lot since he arrived to ‘La Naranja’ (Envigado’s nickname) and stayed there more than any other team he played in Colombia. Despite the fact that the club usually doesn’t succeed, personally Saunders built his names across the country playing with Envigado and became one of the toughest midfielders there. After two years in Envigado, he is about to make his biggest move and join Independiente Medellin. A good season with this major Colombian side and who knows, maybe Saunders will be able to use his English passport and fulfill his Premier League dream.
With James Rodriguez, who came to Envigado’s practice (Instagram @gorgysaunders)
Saunders also has a message for players who lost hope: “I’ve had some real knock-backs. But I’ve been taught to fight and push forward. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. You need a bit of luck, too.”
The conclusion of his message is that Saunders’s unique experience in South America proves that European players can play in Latin leagues. The main difference is, of course, the salary, because most likely that Saunders would earn more in Europe. But besides the adventure of playing a different style of football, South America was his last chance to revive his career and still play football as a job and not to give up on his dream when other European teams rejected him. He may not play in the Champions League, but he surely much happier person because of his decision.