Laura Jones looks at the Football and Premier League’s youngest players and whether 16 is too young to start a playing career.
There was an element of déjà vu at Hillsborough at the weekend. Andre Dozzell, 16, scored on his debut for Ipswich Town against Sheffield Wednesday, a feat that his father also achieved over 32 years ago.
Jason Dozzell made his debut for Ipswich in February 1984 against Coventry City. Signed by Bobby Robson on a schoolboy contract, he came off the bench against Coventry and made his presence know immediately. At just 16 years and 57 days, Jason remains the youngest ever scorer in the old English Football League
Jason’s son, Andre, looked every bit the confident footballer even though he won’t sign a professional contract until next month on his 17th birthday.
Andre has the advantage that his dad works for the Tractor Boys’ academy so he can counsel him through the increasing attention and pressure that will now be balancing on the youngster’s ever developing shoulders.
There are now whispers that Premier League clubs are scouting for Andre’s signature so will he be able to cope with the hype?
Jason will know this feeling well. In 1993 Ipswich sold him to Tottenham Hotspur for £1.9million but the spark of youth fizzled out after multiple injuries restricted the amount of appearances he made. He was eventually loaned back to Ipswich, sold to Northampton Town and then onto Colchester United. He retired at the age of 33 plagued by persistent injuries.
The youngest goalscorer since the formation of the Premier League is Birmingham City’s James Vaughan. He made his debut for Everton against Crystal Palace in 2005. He was 16 years and 271 days. Like Andre and Jason he scored on his debut in the Toffee’s 4-0 demolition of Palace.
Vaughan’s explosion onto the scene did not go smoothly as he signed a four-year deal with Everton and then sustained a serious knee injury that was to affect his Premier League credentials. He was loaned out to Derby County, Leicester City and Palace before Norwich City took a punt on him. That punt was misjudged as during his first season for the Canaries he made just five appearances because of his ongoing injury.
Despite flashes of promise at Huddersfield Town, Vaughan has never fulfilled his youthful hype because his knees haven’t been able to carry the weight of expectation.
Everton are fond of giving their academy players a seat on the first-team bench. Wayne Rooney was 16 and 297 days, and let’s face it, he hasn’t turned out too badly but their youngest debutant was Jose Baxter at 16 and 198 days. He is currently the youngest player to start a Premier League game.
In 2009, aged just 17, Baxter was arrested for suspicion of possession of cannabis with intent to supply and suspicion of possessing counterfeit money. He was loaned out to Tranmere Rovers but rebuilt some of his reputation when he was sold to Oldham Athletic. He had a reasonable period and earned a chance to be reunited with Everton’s ex-youth manager, David Weir, at Sheffield United.
Baxter is currently serving a second suspension in under a year for failing a drugs test. The first suspension was for five months after he claimed his drink was spiked with ecstasy. This current suspension, traces of cocaine were found in his urine sample.
Anyone who listens to The Specials will know that it’s possible to do ‘too much, too young’ and Jose Baxter is the living embodiment of this. If Andre can remain injury and drug-free maybe he can grow to be a successful young player. I’m sure his dad will keep his feet on the ground and gracing the Portman Road pitch.