Jose Baxter will make a shock return to Everton after being offered a 12-month contract when his drugs ban ends in the summer.
The 24-year-old Liverpudlian, who came through the youth system at Goodison Park, is currently serving a year-long suspension from football after failing another drugs test.
Controvery has followed Baxter throughout his career. At just 17, Baxter was arrested on suspicion possession of fake cash and cannabis before finding himself without a club at 24 after being suspended twice in nine months for failing drug tests.
He left Everton at the age of 20 in search of first team football in 2012. After a struggle to find a club, with a proposed move to Crystal Palace failing to materialise and with Baxter considering retirement – his friend, Alan Stubbs worked connections to secure him a contract at Oldham.
Baxter: “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 Stubbsy for effectively saving my career. Without his intervention, I don’t know what I’d have done.
In 2013, another former blue in David Weir signed Baxter for Sheffield United, a move and subsequent Wembley appearance he proclaimed that vindicated his decision to walk away from Everton. Here, Baxter also fulfilled his dream of playing against his boyhood club and idol Steven Gerrard.
With Baxter’s career looking perilous, Everton have stepped in to offer him a contract 12 month contract when his drugs ban ends in the summer.
‘I’m speechless,’ Baxter told The Times. ‘Not many people get a second chance and here’s me with a third chance.’
The decision to hand Baxter a fresh opportunity with the Blues was the idea of chairman Bill Kenwright and Unsworth.
‘It can be anything he wants it to be’ added reserve manager Unsworth, who lifted the FA Cup with the Toffees in 1995.
‘As soon as he comes through the gates of Finch Farm in July, he will be treated like an Under 23 player and we work very hard. He will be given the same opportunities as everyone else. If that means he moves on to a Championship club or League One club later on, that will be down to Jose.
‘We want to help because that is the sort of club we are. He is one of our own, but I have said to Jose, in no uncertain terms, that this is your last chance.’
The Everton Academy graduate still holds the club record as the youngest player to have ever played for the club. Baxter made his Blues debut on the opening day of the 2008-09 season against Blackburn Rovers at just 16 years and 191 days.