Top 25 Players - Dean Saunders
Local lad Dean Saunders began his career with the Swans, signing his first deal in 1980 after leaving school.
He spent 4 years with the Swans & during that time he spent a spell on loan at arch-rivals Cardiff City. He left the Swans to join Brighton in 1984, moving on a free transfer.
After three years with the Seasiders, he began a successful but controversial spell with First Division strugglers Oxford United. He scored the goals to help Oxford avoid relegation at the end of the 1986-87 season, but the following season Oxford finished bottom & were relegated despite Saunders` best efforts.
The controversy came just after the start of the following season, when Saunders was sold to Derby County for £1million. The then Oxford manager, Mark Lawrenson, was unhappy at the board`s decision to sell his star striker, and complained to the board which resulted in his sacking from the club.
Saunders made his Derby County debut in October 1988 against Wimbledon at Derby`s former home, The Baseball Ground. He made an instant impact, grabbing a brace of goals in his first game and he went on to score 14 goals that season. His 14 goals helped the Derby team to finish an impressive & surprising fourth in the 1988-89 First Division table, their highest finish since they were league champions in 1975 & a feat that hasn`t been matched by any Derby team since.
Despite improving his goal tally to over 20 the following season, Derby were still relagated in bottom place. After relagation Derby found it impossible to hang on to their top scorer, with several clubs chasing his signature. Everton were favourites to sign him, but were beaten to his signature by Merseyside rivals Liverpool, who paid a then English record fee of £2.9million to bring him to Anfield.
He made his Welsh debut as a 21-year-old against Ireland in 1986. That was his first of 75 caps and during that time he scored a creditable 22 goals. That tally puts him fourth on the all time Welsh goalscorers list, behind only one time Liverpool strike partner Ian Rush & fellow Swansea City legends Ivor Allchurch and Trevor Ford. He also grabbed the goal which secured a famous 1-0 win over South American giants Brazil in Cardiff in 1991.
During the 1991-92 season, Saunders formed an all Welsh strikeforce alongside Liverpool legend Ian Rush. This combination helped Liverpool to win the F.A Cup for the fifth time in its history in new manager Graeme Souness's first full season in charge. By September 1992, Saunders was on the move again, his time to the Midlands, with Aston Villa forking out £2.5million to sign him. Once again he enjoyed immediate success at his new club. He developed a strong partnership with Dalian Atkinson and the pair's goals guided Villa to an impressive runners-up finish in the first season of the Premiership.
Although Villa couldn`t match that league form during the 1993-94 season, Saunders netted twice in the League Cup final to secure victory over Manchester United at Wembley. Saunders hit the target 15 times in the 1994-95 Premiership campaign but Villa only survived relagation by one place.
Saunders was off-loaded to Turkish club Galatasaray by new Villa manager Brian Little, where he linked up with his old Liverpool manager Graeme Souness. Saunders spent one season at Galatasaray, before he returned to the Premiership with Nottingham Forest in 1996. His only season at the City Ground was a disappointment with a shortage of goals which contributed to Forest's relegation.
He then joined Sheffield United in Division One, where he remained for two years before moving back to the Premiership with newly promoted Bradford City. He remained at Bradford for three years until he finally hung up his boots in 2002, by which time the Bantams had slipped back into Division One. He initially became a coach at Bradford after his retirement, and then moved to Newcastle United F.C. in 2004, initially as a strikers coach, and then first-team coach under old boss Graeme Souness. Souness was sacked on 2 February 2006 due to a run of poor results, and his entire backroom team including Saunders were also replaced.
Saunders is rated alongside the likes of Ian Rush and Mark Hughes when Welsh fans discuss who the greatest Welsh striker of recent years, and if he had spent a longer spell with the Swans then he would have found himself much higher up the list.
Image courtesy of BBC SPORT
Links to the Top 25 Players:
25 - Chris Coleman
24 - John Conforth
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