Danny Hall: Why I hope ex-Blade Jose Baxter can make the most of his Everton lifeline

Jose Baxter scored for United at Wembley
Jose Baxter scored for United at Wembley

So, hands up who saw the Jose Baxter back to Everton bombshell which emerged overnight coming?

Surely not many. Certainly not I and, one imagines, not even Baxter himself, the former Sheffield United trainee who was twice banned for drug-taking during his tumultuous career at Bramall Lane.

"I'm speechless," Baxter told The Times, who broke the story.

"Not many people get a second chance and here's me with a third chance."

The 24-year-old isn't exaggerating. Baxter is a prodigiously talented footballer but his short career to date has been littered with off-field indiscretions. He remains Everton's youngest-ever footballer but was arrested in 2009 on suspicion of possession of cannabis with intent to supply, and on suspicion of possessing counterfeit money - although he was released without charge.

In 2015, whilst at United, he was banned for five months after traces of ecstasy were discovered in his system and he persuaded an FA commission that his drink had been spiked.

The Liverpudlian's United career ended a year later, when he was again banned - this time after testing positive for cocaine. At Wembley - the scene of arguably his biggest high, scoring for United in the 2014 FA Cup semi-final against Hull - he was told he wouldn't be able to kick a ball again until June 1 this year.

“It was like someone had grabbed the inside of my body and pulled it out,” Baxter told The Times.

“I scored at Wembley for Sheffield United and when I was sitting in one of the boxes waiting, I was looking out on the pitch thinking, ‘I scored here in front of a full house and now I’m back to see if my future is going downhill.’

“It was a horrible feeling. One I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, but something I can only blame myself for.”

Jose Baxter

Jose Baxter

There were no excuses this time and no pleas for sympathy - probably just as well, judging by the majority of the reaction to Everton's decision to offer him a lifeline when his ban expires.

It is certainly tempting to view Baxter as a lost cause, beyond help, undeserving of any more chances. Reading his interview with the Daily Mail, after the first drug ban, makes a mockery of the redemption theme when you consider he was suspended again seven months later.

And what about the young Everton player whose place he will take when he joins up with the club's U23s and their coach, David Unsworth?

At the same time, Everton's offer to one of their own is commendable, especially in an age largely devoid of loyalty either way. Baxter has made his mistakes but has also served his punishment - and for someone with a love of football like his, such a lengthy ban from the game will maybe help the penny finally drop. This columnist, for one, certainly hopes it does because Baxter has much to offer, on and off the field; both as a footballer, and as a man who knows what it feels like to almost lose everything.

“I didn’t realise what I had and, up until this happened, I didn’t realise how privileged I was," Baxter admitted.

"It has made me hungrier and I want it more than ever. I understand I’m getting a reputation for being a bit of bad egg. I’m not soft. For any manager looking at me there is a big question mark, but that is up to me to go out there and prove that the past is the past."

Just like the player largely did over his Blades career, Everton's olive branch has split opinion and it will be fascinating to see whether Baxter can take full advantage of it and resurrect his career, somewhere.

Whatever happens, he must surely know that there is no way back if he chucks it away once more.