Oldham v Liverpool: Jose Baxter thrilled at FA Cup meeting
Oldham v Liverpool - FA Cup fourth round
- Venue: Boundary Park
- Date: Sunday 27 January
- Kick-off: 16:00 GMT
Coverage: BBC Radio 5 live
There are plenty of reasons why former Everton 'wonderkid' Jose Baxter is loving life in League One with Oldham right now - and Sunday's FA Cup clash with his boyhood heroes Liverpool is just one of them.
A lot has changed for Baxter since I spoke to him in September, when he was wondering where it had all gone wrong.
After turning down a new Toffees contract because he wanted to play first-team football, he found himself without a club, without a job, and wondering if he had a future in football at all.
Jose Baxter factfile
- Born: Bootle Age: 20
- Position: Forward
- Youth career: By the age of 15, he had broken Patrick Kluivert's international youth goalscoring records and the records of Wayne Rooney, Ian Rush and Michael Owen at club youth level
- Senior career: Made his Everton debut aged 16 years and 191 days in August 2008, and had his first senior start a week later
- Was an unused sub in the 2009 FA Cup final
- His only other Everton start came in Europa League against BATE Borisov in December 2009
- Joined Oldham on a four-month deal in September
- Scored the equaliser eight minutes after coming off the bench on his debut against Notts County.
- Is the Latics' top scorer with 11 goals in 25 starts this season.
- Signed a new two-and-a-half-year contract in January
Fast-forward four months and the 20-year-old forward is starting every game for a manager who believes in him, at a club where the fans adore him.
He even has his own song - 'Jose Baxter, baby' - to the tune of The Human League's 'Don't you want me, baby', which echoes round Boundary Park at every home game.
You will be able to hear it for yourself on Sunday afternoon when the TV cameras go there to see Oldham try to cause a shock against the Reds.
Baxter laughs at the mention of his terrace chant, but it is clear he appreciates the backing he gets from Latics fans as well as from his boss Paul Dickov.
"It is really nice to have a song," he told BBC Sport. "I get a bit of banter about it from my friends but it is great to know the fans like you as well as the manager, who took a gamble on me in the first place."
The Bootle-born striker was a free agent when Dickov brought him to Oldham on trial, having tracked him in Everton's reserves when his superstar youth career seemed to be stuttering to a halt.
Baxter is still the youngest senior player in Everton's history, but made only a handful of first-team starts and was growing sick of life in the second string. He does not regret his decision to leave.
"The reserve team only play every so often, and when you did it was in front of 15 or 20 parents and the odd scout," he explained. "I grew up wanting to be a footballer, and I don't train hard every week to sit on benches and not be involved.
"Now I am really happy I am playing every week. At Oldham it's just so good to go out and play in front of a crowd, especially when they have taken to you and you can hear people chanting your name.
"It's a real buzz scoring and running to the fans, and the whole game feels so different when you are playing for points.
"It's a much better experience and I would recommend dropping down the divisions to any kid who is not getting a chance at the top level - go out and get games and get that experience."
For a while it appeared Baxter would not be hanging around for long at a lower level. He is Oldham's top scorer with 11 goals in 25 starts this season, including a stunning free-kick to help them shock Nottingham Forest in round three.
He could have moved on after that tie, with several Championship sides showing an interest when his initial four-month contract expired, but to the delight of Latics fans, it was announced at their next game against Brentford that he had signed a new two-and-a-half-year contract.
"It was a more positive decision than the one I had to make in the summer," says Baxter. "I wanted to stay where I was playing football and happy, repay the manager for the faith he had in me and also show a bit of respect back to the club.
"I have been lucky enough to play in the Premier League already and I would love to be back there one day. If I keep working hard and keep scoring goals then who knows what could happen."
Oldham boss Dickov on Baxter
"When you look at the way he has been playing, you couldn't have held it against Jose had he decided to move," Dickov said after seeing Baxter sign his new contract earlier this month. "I was always hopeful Jose would stay and it is credit to him, his family and agent that he has decided to stay because he could easily have moved to a club at a higher level.
"Players and agents get a bad name for themselves, but they wanted what was best for Jose and they believe me when I say this is the best place for him at the minute. I watch a lot of games and I firmly believe that he's one of the top talents outside the Premier League. I think he can play at the top level with the ability he's got. One thing he has to do is play games on a consistent basis and he knows he'll get that here."
Between now and the end of the season, real life for Baxter is in a League One relegation battle. Oldham have taken just one point from their last eight games to slide within two places and four points of the drop zone.
But on Sunday he will get a glimpse of what life back in the big time would be like when Liverpool - who are 55 places and two divisions above the Latics - visit in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
It is a dream tie for Baxter, who grew up wearing blue after joining Everton aged six and spending 14 years on their books, but was always a Red on the quiet.
"It's possibly the biggest day of my life," Baxter said. "For me and my family it will be massive and something I will never forget.
"I've been to a few finals watching Liverpool myself. I wasn't at the Steven Gerrard final when we won the FA Cup 2006 but that was unbelievable and the one I remember best.
"He scored that fantastic late goal against West Ham to take the game to extra time then said afterwards he wouldn't have shot if he didn't have cramp.
"It's amazing that I could be playing against him on Sunday. He is one of my idols and possibly one of the best players ever to play the game."