Currently on loan at Yeovil in League Two, the teenager is following a path that many of England’s top goalkeepers have taken
Nathan Baxter has a clear career plan as the Chelsea teenager attempts to emulate the exploits of England goalkeepers Jordan Pickford, Joe Hart and Jack Butland on his way to the top.
Pickford enjoyed loan spells at non-league sides Darlington and Alfreton Town on his way to becoming England’s No.1 keeper, while Hart and Butland also spent time in the lower divisions.
For Baxter, his route to hopefully fulfilling his dream of playing for Chelsea has seen him play for Met Police in non-league, Solihull Moors and Woking in the National League and now he is in League Two with Yeovil.
The 19-year-old is the only teenage goalkeeper currently in English football’s professional ranks to have racked up over 100 appearances in the senior game.
As one of Chelsea’s loanees, he played more minutes than anyone else last season – 4320 in total – and Baxter has explained why he chose to begin in the lower reaches of English football before working his way up.
“My third game for Solihull Moors was in the National League and it came against Lincoln at home,” Baxter told Goal. “They had just played a big FA Cup game. They had a big crowd, it was a physical side and it was a constant test in aerial battles. It was wet and windy.
“I thought afterwards I probably learned more than in any game I had ever played in before. The main things you learn are not from the games individually but playing Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday in a 50-game season. That’s the challenge more than any game in particular.
“I think to have played over 100 senior games is an achievement that I am proud of. Any manager wants a goalkeeper they can trust, the more games in senior football that you play, the more mature you get and I think that’s how any player improves.
“You need match time, it is extremely important and, so far, I have been able to get that at Yeovil and at all the clubs I have been at, even though there is always strong competition when you go on loan, especially in my position because only one player can play.
“I think when I say being part of the club, if you want a successful loan, I now see myself as a Yeovil player not a Chelsea player coming on loan. When I was in non-league I saw myself as a player at that level because if you don’t perform well at that level then you won’t get to move up.
“There’s a lot of goalkeepers who have done that and are now playing at the top level. Pickford is the main example, all three goalkeepers in the World Cup squad had played in League Two, and two of them had played in non-league, so it is a path that a lot of goalkeepers have taken. Hopefully I can continue on that same path.
“I think you are looking whether it is the right time to go out on loan. It is different for every player. When you are a goalkeeper, the level of the club is not as important because the style that your team plays doesn’t necessarily matter.
“Whereas, if you’re a midfielder who likes to get the ball down and play in non-league then the ball may be in the air a lot. For a goalkeeper, you need to catch crosses, kick long, play week-in and week-out. You need to get that experience and it doesn’t matter what level you go to.
“Luckily, I have been able to work my way up from non-league to National League to League Two. The more experience I can get then that’s obviously the path that lots of England goalkeepers and Premier League goalkeepers have taken.
“There’s also Ben Foster, Nick Pope, Joe Hart and Jack Butland who have done that. That’s something I want to continue to do. Rise up and earn my spurs.”
Baxter has racked up a host of small records at his loan clubs, including winning four different player of the season awards at Woking. At Yeovil, he went 10 hours 12 minutes without conceding a goal, and set the club record for consecutive clean sheets after notching six in a row in all competitions before the spell was broken against Swindon.
The run is something that Baxter credits to the coaching team at Yeovil which is led by Darren Way, but includes John Terry’s brother Paul, Terry Skiverton and goalkeeping coach Steve Phillips.
In non-league, Baxter used to return to Chelsea to train as the clubs are on a part-time schedule. Now, he is on a full-time schedule with Yeovil but Chelsea keep an eye on all their loanees with dedicated coaches giving feedback and support.
Baxter admits that, like any loanee, he dreams of one day making it at Chelsea and that Petr Cech inspired him when he was growing up in the academy system at Cobham.
“I absolutely loved growing up at Chelsea,” he added. “It is a wonderful academy. The support I received growing up through the age groups was absolutely unbelievable. The way they support me while I am on loan is great. They are in constant contact with the staff at Chelsea.
“Neil Bath, in particular, has been really supportive with all my loans. I am grateful to be at the club and, obviously, you always dream of playing for the first team, but I am just concentrating on playing well for Yeovil and finishing as high as we can.
“I was just playing for my local Sunday League team and then eventually signed when I was eight. Chelsea asked me to come in and train at Cobham. Growing up, I loved Petr Cech, especially when I was at Chelsea he was the number one for so many years and he was the one that I always watched.
“I loved his high positioning. That positioning is something that I try to copy now. My dad Richard has been a big support, too. He put in a lot of mileage, driving me all over the country and regularly to Cobham. He was the one who supported me throughout my journey.
“He comes to almost every game. He came to Hartlepool away, Torquay away last year. He comes down for almost every Yeovil game.”
Chelsea spotted a sports-mad Baxter at the age of six playing for Cray Wanderers in south east London before signing him up two years later. He also played for Kent County Cricket Club but football quickly became his sole focus.
His highlight in academy football is winning the FA Youth Cup final in 2015-16 against Manchester City in a match that featured Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori versus Brahim Diaz, Jadon Sancho and Lukas Nmecha.
“It was a great moment to win it,” he continued. “I am very proud to have been a part of it. I think I was lucky to play in games that mattered. The FA Youth Cup matters. It helped me to play senior football at the age that I did because I had played pressured games in the youth team.
“That meant after, when I was on loan at every other team I went to, I could handle it. The FA Youth Cup was a good bridge from the Under 18 league to senior football.
“Yes, it is really great to see Mason among the others to get the international call ups. It is the target of any player to play international football. It is great to know that I grew up with players that are playing at the top level. It is a motivation to see lads that I shared a dressing room with are doing well.”
The England senior national team is still a long way away, but the steps so far have been smart from Baxter and those in Chelsea’s academy who want to see him develop.
A next step might be a first call up to one of England’s youth squads but Baxter says he needs to keep up his form in League Two, with his international future in the hands of others.
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“What I would say on that is it is a goal of mine, like any other player. But my focus is on Yeovil, because if I play well for Yeovil, then my chance will come. I want to concentrate on my club and, if my performances are recognised internationally, then I will love that.
“This is my fourth loan now, so I know what it takes to be successful at a club, you need to buy into a football club. I have enjoyed every minute of it so far. I have enjoyed working under the manager. The training is really good and the detail in training is really good.
“The goalkeeper coach is looking after me as well, That’s the reason I went here, to develop in senior football, but the environment to train in is also great. Both sides have been great, both to learn and the performances.”