Jose Baxter is facing a maximum suspension of six months after testing positive for a banned substance earlier this month.
Traces of the drug, understood to be ecstasy, were discovered in the Sheffield United midfielder’s system during a routine test conducted before his club’s League One play-off semi-final against Swindon Town.
Crucially, the breach was revealed during an out-of-competition test, which, combined with the fact that the substance involved is usually regarded as recreational rather than performance-enhancing, should limit the length of any potential ban.
Baxter denies any wrongdoing and, as United confirmed in a statement issued over the weekend, vehemently protested his innocence when informed of the result.
“The club has learned that one of its players, Jose Baxter, was found to have traces of a banned substance in his sample following a routine Football Association out-of-competition drug test,” the statement read.
“The player has informed the club that he engaged in no wrongdoing involving any banned substance.
“Established policy in these circumstances requires that the club temporarily suspend the player pending further findings.
“The club has taken this step without prejudice to the player’s claim of no wrongdoing. The club will offer no further comment at this stage.”
Both the Football Association and UK Anti-Doping, the organisation responsible for undertaking testing on behalf of the governing body, adhere to a strict policy of anonimity in cases such as Baxter’s where drugs which do not necessarily feature on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) prohibted list are involved.
However, United decided to publicly acknowledge the circumstances surrounding the 23-year-old’s absence from their final two matches of the season when it became clear the results had been leaked by an unknown third party.
The FA recently defended its stance by arguing it allows players to undergo the necessary treatment, rehabilitation or education without being stigmatised for their rest of their careers.
A statement, made following a Channel 4 investigation into the issue, contained the clause: “The FA do not report the name of the player as this offence is not a WADA Code offence and privacy allows for the player to undergo any necessary rehabilitation and counselling.”
The Professional Footballers’ Association issued its own response to Saturday evening’s announcement, saying it is “providing our full support as this difficult time” but “will make no further comment as the matter is subject to the appropriate processes”.
Baxter joined United from Oldham Athletic in the summer of 2013 and made 48 appearances last term.
He scored five goals during his final nine outings of the campaign which saw United edged out in the play-off semi-finals by the Robins.
Baxter, who progressed through the ranks at Goodison Park, rose to prominence when he became the youngest player to represent Everton in a competitive fixture aged just 16 years and 191 days.
Baxter, signed by Nigel Clough’s predecessor, David Weir, was a member of the United squads which reached the semi-finals of the FA and Capital One Cups following Clough’s appointment 19 months ago.