Vindication for Baxter at Wembley this weekend

, 10 April, 0comments  |  Jump to most recent
When developing through the ranks at Everton, Jose Baxter was hailed as being an even better 16-year-old than Wayne Rooney, refusing a contract offer from David Moyes while still in his teens and nearly quitting football in despair soon after. This weekend, he plays for Sheffield Utd in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley Stadium.

He never bought into the idea he was as good as Rooney, let alone better, but he did fervently believe he had more to offer than a support role at Goodison Park when Moyes sat him down and asked him to extend his stay.

"I nearly dropped the paper when I read that Ray Hall at Everton thought I was better at 16 than Rooney," he said. "Ray was Academy Director so must have seen something, but I never thought I was in that bracket. I mean, Rooney was scoring hat-tricks for Manchester United at the time. I wasn't at that level.

"But, like Wayne, I got into Everton's first team at 16. I was the youngest ever to do it (16 years 191 days), and I genuinely thought that was my stage. I was there for good, no-one was going to shift me.

"But Everton are massive and the next thing I knew, they were spending 15 million on Marouane Fellaini. Mikel Arteta was already there, then Louis Saha arrived — all attacking players who were going to push me down the pecking order.

"I was just coming to terms with that when David Moyes called me into his office, told me the club were offering me a new two-year deal and that I should go away and enjoy my summer then sign it. But I knew I wasn't going to. I wanted to be playing. I was nudging 20 and I didn't want to be sitting on the bench for Everton again, thinking, Am I going backwards here?

"I went to Crystal Palace and after speaking to their manager Dougie Freedman, I went on holiday knowing there was a contract waiting to be signed on my return. But something happened. I don't know whether it was financial, but it never materialised. I ended up back at my parents' home and for two months my Saturday afternoons were spent on the couch, watching Soccer Saturday.

"It was the low point of my life and I remember turning to my mum one day and saying, I can't hack this, I'm hanging my boots up. But I was going to a local gym and my pal Cracker, Michael McNally, soon put me right. He not only kept me ticking over fitness-wise, he kept geeing me up by saying, Make sure you stay in shape and you'll get your chance, you're too good not to.

"Next thing I knew, Stubbsy was on the phone, saying, What's this about quitting and not having a club? I'm not having that. Leave it with me and I'll get back to you.

"He had a word with (former Everton keeper) Paul Gerrard at Oldham and in no time Paul Dickov was offering me a contract.

"It was only for three or four months initially and I was on buttons, but I was made up. I was so grateful to Cracker for keeping my spirits up and Stubbsy for effectively saving my career. Without his intervention, I don't know what I'd have done — thrown myself off a cliff, probably.

"All I've ever known is football and even when I look back now, I have absolutely no idea what else I could have done to earn a living. But that short-term contract soon became a 2-year one and I've never looked back. I'm 22 and I've got nearly 100 games under my belt."

Baxter, now at Sheffield United, added: "How many players can say they've won 10 games on the bounce, like we have this season? How many have played in a Cup semi-final? I've been playing in front of 18,000 at Bramall Lane and there'll be 80,000 at Wembley.

"No, I've no regrets about leaving Everton, and stepping out at Wembley on Sunday will be vindication of it. A lot of mates will be there, including Cracker. He's a top lad and apart from helping me train, boxing and sparring in the ring, as well as fitness stuff.

» Read the full article at Daily Mail

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