For more than 20 years now, Sean Dundee has been remembered by fans for all the wrong reasons. The 14 infamous months he spent as a Liverpool player have gone down in fanbase folklore.
But it wasn’t supposed to go that way for the South African striker.
Born in Durban, he moved to Germany as a 19-year-old to kick off his professional football career, first with Stuttgarter Kickers before a season with TSF Ditzingen which yielded 24 goals in 34 games.
That saw him join Karlsruher SC, where he proved his goalscoring prowess in the Bundesliga — he was capped once by Germany’s B team and there was even talk of a call up to the represent Die Mannschaft as a full international.
So in 1998, when his stock had never been higher, Sean Dundee was a target for many European teams when his team were relegated at the end of the season.
“Karlsruher had just been relegated and I had three clubs interested,” he recalled. “One was in the Bundesliga, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Auxerre from France and Glasgow Rangers were very interested.
“Then within one or two days my agent said Liverpool were interested and then there was no choice anymore — I knew where I wanted to go.
“As a kid I was an Evertonian and it was a dream of mine to go to Liverpool, to Merseyside, and see what it’s like. There was no question, as soon as Liverpool came knocking I knew where I was going.”
His mind was made up, and he joined the Reds in June for £1.8m.
To play for a club with Liverpool’s pedigree and history is an honour for any player. The South African knew that, and also knew the quality of the players he would call his teammates, including fellow forward Karl-Heinz Reidle, a “hero” of Dundee’s.
“I was excited about the move — I knew I was up to it. I was excited to see the city and the players. Michael Owen was pretty new at the time, but Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, David James — they were the big names back then.”
One of the lesser-known players at the time was a young teenager named Steven Gerrard, who was in the early stages of his senior Anfield adventure.
Despite his tender years, Dundee says it was clear to see how talented and driven the future captain was.
“He was a quiet boy but you could see back then his focus, the way he was. He trained like he had been there for years. I would have loved to see him win the league — you could see that he was going to be good and he became a real legend there. He didn’t hold back on anything, he was hard and fair.
“Through the years he got better and that obviously he had that long ball that he could play like no other. He wasn’t scared, he just fit in. He knew where he wanted to go and the chance he had, and he took it with both hands.”
While Gerrard would go on to cement his status as a Liverpool legend, Dundee’s Anfield experience could hardly have gone much worse.
It didn’t help that he joined at a time of internal turmoil, with joint-managers Roy Evans and Gérard Houllier splitting the role in what was a confusing and untenable situation for all involved.
But Dundee is quick to admit that much of the blame for his failure to impress lies with him. When he speaks it’s clear to see he regrets how his Liverpool story played out.
“It was a dream to go [to Liverpool]. Obviously at the start I take full blame -— it was my own fault not being fit enough. I should have worked harder, I should have done a lot more.
“But then I had no opportunity to really put it right, to show that I was better. I don’t want to be classified as one of the worst players. Obviously I see stuff on the internet now and again — before maybe it would have hurt but now, you know, it’s one of the things that happens.
“I never had the opportunity to really show what I could do. I know in my heart I could have made it, but through my bad start and through the managers’ ideas [I didn’t].”
Roy Evans’ first impression of Dundee could hardly have been much worse. The 6ft 2in striker had come from a relegated Bundesliga side to a far more fast-paced league and to a club with much loftier ambitions.
He was unfit, and was forced to complete extra training sessions on his own to be able to keep up with the pace of the training regime and start impressing the coaches.
Not only that, but extra pressure had been heaped on him by a newspaper report claiming Dundee had said he was faster than pacey teenager and positional rival Michael Owen, something which he strongly denies saying.
“I don’t know what newspaper it was, but I never said that! I said I was the fastest player in my team in Karlsruher, and I was interested to see how fast Owen was. I don’t know where they somehow mixed the words up, but I never said that.”
Eventually the chance came for him to make his debut — an eight-minute cameo against Fulham in the fourth round of the Worthington Cup at the end of October — before another substitute appearance against Valencia in Europe where his introduction was much more impactful.
Two goals were scored during his 12 minutes on the pitch against the Spanish side, with his height and physicality proving difficult for the opposition defence to deal with.
It was starting to look like he would be afforded more game time, but then a cruel blow struck — a knee injury sidelined him for three months. The momentum he was slowly building dissipated.
By this time Roy Evans had left his role as joint-manager and Houllier — a man with whom Dundee admits he had a strained relationship — was left in sole charge of first-team affairs.
The South African, now 47, says he tried to show he was keen to prove himself as he neared a return from his injury layoff, but his French manager seemed uninterested in giving him a chance to prove his worth to the club.
“I can remember when I was just towards the time when I was coming back [from injury] — I like to speak to manager and see what I can do better — I went to him and said ‘what can I do in order to get the chance again?’
“As I sat down to talk with him his phone rang — I sat there and waited and waited and then after 15 minutes I went out. And then I knew, if a coach wants to talk to you then he listens, but I knew he wasn’t interested in listening and I knew he wanted me to go.
“If he had said to me plain and simple ‘I don’t want you, you’re not in my plans’, then I would’ve made that decision a long time ago. I tried to stay fit, I trained alone but I had no idea what was going on.
“When they went away on a training camp and I never knew anything about it — I’m not going to sit here for two years and wait for the manager to go.”
But despite his experience working under Houllier, Dundee insists he has nothing but respect for his former boss.
“He was a great coach, I think he had a good record as well, but at certain clubs he had problems with players as well. It’s just the way he was and the way he did things.”
After a little more than a year at Anfield which yielded no goals in just five appearances as a substitute, Dundee returned to Germany with VfB Stuttgart where he rediscovered his scoring touch, netting 25 times in 77 games.
He also enjoyed another prolific spell back at Karlsruher before retiring at Durban-based club AmaZulu in 2009, having scored 100 times in 300 games during a 17-year professional career.
In an alternate world, Sean Dundee may well have gone on to enjoy a fine career with Liverpool FC. For one reason or another it didn’t work out that way, but the memory of playing in front of the Kop is something that will always stay with him.
“Obviously in my heart I wish I had made a decent impression — not so much for the manager but for the fans.
“I’m proud to have been there.”