Sheffield United: Jose remains grateful for Latics chance

Jose Baxter   - Sheffield United ''� BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Jose Baxter - Sheffield United ''� BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
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At 16 years of age, he was a Premier League history-maker who was likened to another Everton starlet, Wayne Rooney.

But by the age of 20, Jose Baxter was without a club, living back with his parents and training at a boxing gym to keep fit.

He was handed one last lifeline, with a trial at Oldham Athletic - and returns to his former side tonight, with Sheffield United, having re-established a reputation as one of League One’s brightest talents.

“Oldham took a chance on me, and I will be forever grateful for that,” Baxter, who became the youngest player in Everton’s history when he made his debut agaist Blackburn at 16, said.

“Now I’m happy, and I have to thank them.

“I know a couple of lads there still - [ex-Blade] Connor Brown and Jonathan Grounds - and I still keep an eye out for their results. Admittedly, at the start of the season I was more fearful for us than I was for them! But we’ve both climbed out of trouble, they’re now eight unbeaten and they’re playing without stress so it should be a good game of football.”

Baxter, who could once again be deployed as a ‘false nine’ against Lee Johnson’s Oldham, added: “I enjoy playing in a variety of different positions; it’s good to broaden my game, and hopefully it can be beneficial to me at the next level.

“Next season, the pressure will be on us again because of how we’ve finished this time around - teams will fear us, and it’ll be up to us to deal with that.

“It’s been a rollercoaster of a season - from second bottom to a Wembley FA Cup semi-final and just missing out on the play-offs - and we’re hoping to finish it on the right note.”

Baxter, who joined United last August in a deal thought to be worth over £300,000, showed an early glimpse of his abilities with a thunderous free-kick to rescue a point against tonight’s opponents on Boxing Day last year.

Those abilities convinced Ray Hall, the revered former chief of the Toffees’ academy, that Baxter was a better player than Rooney at the same age, back at Everton’s Finch Farm training academy.

A handful of appearances in the Premier League and Europa League followed, but a loan spell at Tranmere Rovers in 2011 whetted his appetite for first-team football and he turned down the offer of a new Everton contract.

“I just wasn’t getting game time,” Baxter added.

“I was on the bench a lot, which was a great honour but I was getting to the point where I wasn’t a teenager anymore. I was training hard all week for nothing, at the end of the day, and I wanted to play in games that meant something.

“It was a tough decision to leave Everton, and for a time I did consider quitting the game. But it’s worked out well - I’ve had two good FA Cup runs, and I’ve scored at Wembley.

“I wouldn’t have got those experiences sat on the bench at Everton - and maybe we can get back to that level one day. Who knows? Everyone’s got a dream, and sometimes they do come true.”

Teams and ref

OLDHAM (possible): Rachubka, Brown, Grounds, Wilson, Lockwood, Wesolowski, Dayton, Byrom, Harkins, Clarke-Harris, Philliskirk (4-4-2).

UNITED (possible): Howard, Brayford, Maguire, Hill, Freeman, Flynn, Coady, Doyle, Murphy, Scougall, Baxter.

Scott Mathieson (cheshire): His last United game came in October 2012 at Bramall Lane - against Oldham, in a 1-1 draw. He handed out eight cautions - including one to current Blade Jose Baxter, who played for Oldham. He averages just over three cautions per game this term, and has given out seven red cards.