You may not have heard of young Chelsea goalkeeper Nathan Baxter yet, but he’s been working on a plan to make sure you eventually do. And he’s been at it since at least age 17. He’s now 20, and he’s just committed his future to the club for the next 4.5 years.
Unlike his more well-known fellow Academy graduates, Baxter plays a position where he doesn’t get opportunities to impress with silky foot-skills or killer pace or head-turning goals. He has to take a more long-term view, and build up to his chance. Bundesliga clubs may be turning to youth for example, but even they are unlikely to grant too many chances to teenage goalkeepers.
“I’ve played over a 100 senior games now, so at 19, 20 [years of age] I’m proud of that. And it gave me the opportunity to play 60 games — 80 or 60, I dunno — which is great! And now obviously 20 for Yeovil, which is good. I just want to keep going.
“It’s the path that a lot of goalkeepers — Pickford, Butland, Hart — they’ve all gone and played through all the leagues so I’m just going to keep taking it loan-by-loan as I have, and hopefully as I’m older I’ll have that experience and challenge it.”
Baxter decided to step out of the comforts of youth football at the earliest opportunity, dropping down all the way to 7th-tier Met Police in the Isthmian League at 17, then playing National League (5th tier) football with Solihull Moors and Woking. Now, he’s in the Football League proper and setting club records for clean sheets at League Two (4th tier) Yeovil Town — he’s been injured for the past month, but he’s set to return soon.
As Baxter points out, Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland, and Joe Hart had more than a dozen loans between them as they worked their way all the way up to the England national team, and that’s certainly a great example to follow. As a counter-example, we only have to look to Chelsea’s own Jamal Blackman, 25 (five loans and counting), or the legendary loan warrior and at one point, Chelsea’s longest-serving non-Academy player, Matej Delač, now 26, who collected at least nine moves before finally calling it quits last summer.
But let’s keep it positive, like young Nathan.
“I can now focus on my loans and climbing up the ladder. I think it takes me to I’m 24, which is Kepa’s age, doesn’t it? So hopefully when I’m 24 they won’t have to go out and spend a lot of money and I’ll be ready, you never know.”
-Nathan Baxter; source: Chelsea TV
Indeed, in sports you never know. After so many stories about troubled loans and young players looking for guarantees from the club, it’s refreshing to see how Baxter is embracing his opportunities on loan.
Born in central London, Baxter has been with Chelsea he was eight years old. Perhaps someday, he will even get the nod as our starting goalkeeper.