FEW footballers have experienced the highs and lows of a life in the beautiful game like Jose Baxter.
The 27 year-old forward, who has signed a short-term deal to join Ryan Lowe’s Pilgrims at Home Park for the start of the upcoming Sky Bet League Two campaign, became the youngest first-teamer in Everton history when he made his debut for the Toffees at the age of 16 years and 191 days.
Despite an incredible rise to prominence, or perhaps because of it, Baxter failed to fulfil his potential on Merseyside, making only 15 appearances, seven in the Premier League, for Everton before departing Goodison Park.
Upon his release from the club that he joined when he was just seven years-old, Baxter joined then League One side Oldham Athletic on an initial four-month deal. A debut goal came the following day, scoring against Notts County.
Impressive form at Boundary Park led to interest from a number of clubs, but Baxter put pen to paper on a long-term deal with the Latics in January 2013.
Despite this, his continued streak of impressive form led to firm interest from Sheffield United, who were managed by Baxter’s former youth manager, David Weir. Baxter joined the Blades for a reported £500,000 early in the 2013-14 campaign.
His Oldham form seemed to carry across unencumbered by the pressure of a big money move, and Baxter was nominated for the League One Player of the Month that December. His season was capped by scoring the opening goal during United’s unlikely run to the FA Cup semi-final, which they lost 5-3 to Hull City.
The following season, Baxter again found form in knock-out football, including a notable pair of penalties in a 3-0 victory over John Sheridan’s Pilgrims in the FA Cup second round at Bramall Lane.
In the years to follow, Baxter encountered his fair share of off-the-field problems, which culminated in the forward serving a ban from playing professionally as a result of a failed drugs test. Baxter has spoken openly about his struggles with depression and addiction in recent times, including a frank interview with Juliette Ferrington for the BBC’s Football Focus television programme.
In January 2017, Baxter’s career was thrown a lifeline at the club where it all began, as Everton Chairman Bill Kenwright invited the academy graduate to train with the club.
A one-year contract followed, much to Baxter’s surprise, and he spent the 2017-18 campaign working diligently to get fit and regain match-sharpness in the Everton Under-23’s side.
The following year, he joined Sky Bet League Two Oldham, completing a journey back into the professional leagues.