‘I want to get Colchester over the line’ – insists Saunders
- Credit: Richard Blaxall
Sam Saunders has already won promotion three times as a player, for three different clubs, and now he is gunning for a fourth promotion at his new club Colchester United.
Experienced midfielder Saunders signed for the U’s towards the end of last month, as a free agent after having had his contract at Wycombe Wanderers cancelled by mutual consent at the end of January.
The 35-year-old made a cameo appearance as a substitute at Cambridge United last weekend, impressing after his 83rd minute introduction while also helping Colchester to a last gasp 1-0 win.
Now Saunders is ready to play a big part in the U’s late bid for a League Two play-off place, over the last month of the season, even though he has described himself as “a grumpy old man in the dressing room.”
This is a deliberate measure to try and temper the high spirits of the young players around him, and keep them focused on the matter in hand.
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Saunders clinched promotion from the Conference (National League) to the Football League with Dagenham & Redbridge (2006-07), and went on to enjoy promotions with Brentford (to the Championship, 2013-14) and with Wycombe (to League One last season).
“I had a couple of offers since I left Wycombe in January, but they didn’t fit with me, challenge-wise,” explained Saunders, following yesterday’s training session at Florence Park, Tiptree.
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“But then Colchester came in, and I thought – ‘Yes!’ – because it certainly helps to be playing for a team who is going for something, to try and get promoted.
“I didn’t want to join another club late on who were trying to avoid relegation, and I didn’t want to just go through the motions playing for a club in mid-table.
“But coming to Colchester is a chance to win another promotion, and to help get the club over the line, so I had no hesitation in signing after I came down here.
“The gaffer (John McGreal) was ready to make signings to help out the team, and I will be looking to help them.
“I want to make my mark. I haven’t played games for a while, and you only get fitter by playing games, but I’m ready to start if required.
“There are a lot of talented players at Colchester, which is one of the pluses of having such a young squad. I have seen flashes of brilliance here, but the younger players just need to show a bit more consistency.
“Hopefully, I can help with that, to grind out a few more good results.
“Of course my preference is to play a good style of football, but it’s a results-run business, especially at this stage of the season.”
Saunders only made eight appearances for Wycombe this season, and only four of these in the league, before his departure at the end of January.
“This has been an annoying season for me,” confirmed Saunders. “I have not got the opportunities that I felt I deserved. I feel I should have been given more chances this season.
“It’s not been good, and I don’t have any fond memories of this year, but I’m looking to end it on a high, at Colchester.
“I was prepared to wait until the summer to find a new club, if that was necessary, after ending my contract at Wycombe
“I don’t want to drop down into the Conference (National League), because I feel that I still have something to offer at this level. I needed to get out of my contract, to take a risk.
“I’ve had six weeks off, and have taken that opportunity to do lots of coaching at Brentford, with the Reserves, so I’ve used it as a positive rather than a negative.
“I think my game has progressed, tactically, rather than just on the physical, fitness side, and coaching is something that I will be looking at in the future. I have done my ‘B’ coaching badge, and plan to do the ‘A’ one this summer.
“During my career I have never been the quickest or the strongest player, so I have had to learn how to be tactical,” added Saunders.
With regards last weekend’s last gasp win at Cambridge achieved via Kane Vincent-Young’s 96th minute winner, and his own role in the dressing room, Saunders continued: “It was great for the team to get that 96th minute winner, but I have since found myself to be the grumpy old man in the dressing room
“Everyone was excited after the Cambridge win, and of course we have all enjoyed that win, but it’s my job to keep everyone focused on the next few weeks, and to not get carried away.
“We haven’t achieved anything yet, so I’ve been the grumpy old man, who has been there and done that, trying to keep the young players’ feet on the ground.
“In a way, I see myself as having just as a big a role in the dressing room, as on the pitch.”