Jose Baxter was always going to have a difficult time living up to the hype as he trail-blazed into the Everton first team square in the slipstream of Rooney-mania. Being named the ‘next Wayne Rooney’ at a time when the Manchester United forward was looking every bit the most mercurial talent English football had produced in a generation was some weight to place on young shoulders.
The Bootle-born 20-year-old’s early prodigy was evident when at the age of 15 he had broken the international youth goalscoring record of a certain Patrick Kluivert and the domestic records of Ian Rush, Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen. Hope was high for the rest of his career.
After making his Everton debut at the tender age of 16 the dizzy heights were predicted of the talented forward. Now however he finds himself in a relegation battle with Oldham Athletic in League Two.
But do not think this is already a sad tale of a career gone down the drain; of another English talent for the scrapheap.
At just 20-years-old there is still plenty of time for Baxter to turn things around and considering his current form that certainly seems to be the path he is on. After being offered a two-year-extension this summer by his boyhood club Baxter decided it was time to take his chances as a free agent but after a trial at Crystal Palace was deemed unsuccessful due to fitness worries he was snapped up by Paul Dickov at Boundary Park on a short-term deal.
Since then he has turned his career on its head in a remarkably short space of time. He has trimmed down and his fitness is no longer an issue; perhaps a consequence of playing regular football. Add to that his 11 goals in 24 appearances and there was little wonder teams such as Hull City and Bolton Wanderers were interested in signing him this month.
However Oldham fans need not panic as he signed a two-and-a-half-year deal at the club this month. His manager Dickov feels he has the potential to return to the Premier League one day and this weekend he has the opportunity to prove himself against Premier League opposition in the FA Cup; as he faces old adversaries Liverpool.
When would be a better occasion for the young man to prove himself then against the bitter rivals of the team that gave him his football education?
It certainly is one of this weekend’s most intriguing FA Cup sub-plots.
image: © matthew wilkinson