Jose Baxter is convinced that James Wallace, his Sheffield United team mate, is destined to become one of the most celebrated players at Bramall Lane.
Wallace, who progressed through the ranks at Everton before joining Tranmere Rovers three years ago, has made only 20 appearances since moving to South Yorkshire last summer after being plagued by fitness issues.
But Baxter, another graduate of Goodison Park’s youth academy, told The Star: “Everyone talks about playing your best football when you’re in a good partnership and, for me, I’ve played some of my best stuff with James. He’s brilliant for me, he breaks play up and lets everyone else get on with it. The sooner he gets fit and sharp, the sooner the fans here will realise he is a top class player.”
“He was a big player for Tranmere and, when they were flying at the top of the league, it was no surprise that he was in the team,” Baxter added. “James can make a massive difference. We’ve got some really good midfielders here so it’s going to be tough but, once he’s back, the James I know, he’ll be flying.”
A catalogue of unrelated injuries have seen Wallace miss 76 per cent of United’s games following departure from Prenton Park but the midfielder, a former England youth international, returned to action at Fleetwood Town last week.
Baxter, who also worked alongside the likes of Jack Rodwell, Mikel Arteta and Nuno Valente during his spell with the Premier League club, said: “Everton wanted to keep James back then which tells you he’s quality but he wanted to go out and play. I was a Liverpool fan there but James was an Evertonian, it was his boyhood club and it showed just how much he loves football that he was ready to leave to play some games. That shows the tenacity he’s got.”
“I think James had a really good game the other day and I’m not just saying that because he’s my best mate,” Baxter added. “He looked a bit tired to begin with which was inevitable because that was his first game back. But then he caught his second wind and he’ll get better and better.”
Nigel Adkins, the United manager, highlighted the presence of Wallace and fellow midfielder Paul Coutts as a “positive” following Saturday’s draw with Southend. Coutts, previously of Derby County, started the fixture while Wallace was introduced as a second-half substitute.
Adkins, a former physiotherapist, has frequently expressed dismay at the fact several members of United’s squad began the present campaign still carrying injuries sustained last season. Earlier this month, he outlined plans to rectify a situation he believes has contributed to the club’s inconsistent results of late.
“I was really pleased for Paul,” Adkins said. “Particularly as he was out there right at the end of the second-half of the game. That’s more game-time for him, more minutes under his belt. We also managed to get James out there on the pitch too which is good. The more these lads are involved, the better, sharper and fitter they are going to become.”
“It’s been frustrating, yes, not to be able to have a consistency of selection because that’s what every manager wants,” he added. “But we are putting things in place to ensure that, once these lads come back, they stay back.”