WHEN Woking announced the signing of Nathan Baxter last month, it was a sure sign that the tables of good fortune had finally turned, writes Andy Fitzsimons.
Baxter (pictured), 18, who is on a season-long loan at the National League club from Premier League champions Chelsea, remains one of the surprise new signings for Cards’ boss Anthony Limbrick. Yet with optimism and trepidation comes great responsibility, something that the highly-rated shot-stopper is only too willing to face head on.
Whilst a number of his young professional counterparts continue to ply their trade in the confines of the youth development leagues, Baxter’s insight and unquestionable maturity enables him to think more laterally about his career and what he needs to do, as opposed to what’s easiest.
Prior to arriving at The Laithwaite Community Stadium, The Blues’ keeper made 17 appearances for Solihull Moors, so he is certainly adept to the hustle and bustle of the National League. He also had a brief spell with the Metropolitan Police team in the Isthmian League.
Whilst being a young footballer can’t be likened to working nine to five, Baxter’s strive for sporting perfection means that he’s always one of the first at the training ground and one of the last to leave.
“Having the opportunity to play in the National League at 18 was a great learning curve; you learn a lot playing men’s football, as it’s different to youth football. Being on loan at Woking this season, therefore, means that I can show I can perform consistently well for a whole season.
“To play Saturday, Tuesday; to play real (men’s) football; and to play against the likes of Forest Green Rovers and Lincoln City for Solihull was great. It gave me a lot of confidence.
Despite winning the FA Youth Cup – and featuring in Chelsea’s under-19s European championship winning side – Baxter believes that his time at Woking over the next nine months will help take his game to the next level.
“When Chelsea told me that Woking were interested in me; Neil Bath, the academy manager (at Chelsea); who I respect and trust implicitly, said that it would be a good place to develop,” explained Baxter.
“My ambition has always been to be the best that I can be and play at the highest level I can. Woking is a club on the up; it’s has a great history in the FA Cup, and I knew that Anthony (Limbrick) is different to a lot of other non-league managers at this level.
“From his time working at Southampton (and latterly West Ham United), Anthony is a manager and a coach who knows what it takes to go from being a good young footballer to going onto play in the Premier League.
“At this level of football (National League), I’m always going to learn a lot in the games, but Anthony also brings that technical level and high intensity into training, which is what I’ve grown up with at Chelsea.
“When you take all those factors into account; the manager, the size of the club; the opportunities to play in the National League; it’s provides a solid platform to progress,” he added.
And who could question The Blues’ man decision for wanting to serve his apprenticeship in the lower leagues. New Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford gained his experience at non-league Darlington and Alfreton Town while on-loan from his former club Sunderland.
In fact, Baxter’s aptitude to continually want to improve and not rest on his laurels is testament to his maturity and level-headedness.
“I believe that, whatever club you’re at, you should embrace it,” he said. “Now I’m at Woking, I don’t feel like I’m a Chelsea player playing for Woking, I’m a Woking player, and I want to make sure that Woking finish as high as they can next season.
“When I was playing for the Met Police at the start of last season, I might have only been playing in front of a few hundred people; however, three of those people might be members of staff from Chelsea, so it really doesn’t matter where you play, you want to do your best.
“My ambition by the end of this coming season is to be a goalkeeper that has made the best part of 60 National League appearances by the time I’m 19. I believe it can only help me to improve as a player and make that step up,” added Baxter.