Everton have somewhat surprisingly offered former youth product Jose Baxter a one-year-deal. The 24-year-old is currently banned from football after failing a drugs test and will join up with his former club this summer.
Baxter will return to USM Finch Farm for preseason training and start in David Unsworth's Under-23 squad. If he makes sufficient progress, the former Tranmere Rovers attacker will be moved up to Ronald Koeman's first-team.
Unsworth, a former Everton youth graduate himself, played a huge role in bringing Baxter back to Goodison Park along with chairman Bill Kenwright and has welcomed the upcoming arrival of former Oldham Athletic playmaker, who tested positive for cocaine while at Sheffield United in February last year. But the former left-back has warned Baxter that this offer is his last chance.
"It can be anything he wants it to be," Unsworth told The Times. "As soon as he comes through the gates of Finch Farm in July, he will be treated like an Under-23 player and we work very, very hard. It is up to him and down to his football performances. Nothing else.
"Jose will start with me and the Under-23s. We can play three older players so that is not an issue. Then it is up to him. How quickly can he get back to fitness? How quickly can his performances get him to where he wants to be?
"It is important to say it will not be a first-team contract [in terms of finance]. He will be given the same opportunities as everyone else. If that means he moves on to a Championship club or a League One club later on, that will be down to Jose.
"We want to help because that is the sort of club we are. He is one of our own, but I have said to Jose, in no uncertain terms, that this is your last chance."
Deputy chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale submitted the offer to Baxter on Thursday (26 January) and echoed Unsworth's sentiments about how hard he will have to work, but the troubled forward, who made his debut for Everton against Blackburn Rovers aged just 16 in August 2008, is expressed his delight at being handed a 'third chance' in football.
"I'm speechless," said Baxter. "Not many people get a second chance and here's me with a third chance."