PNE new boy Baptiste bids to kick on after injury nightmare
Every player longs to make an immediate impact after joining a new club.
It’s a different challenge and often the chance of a fresh start.
It was no different for Alex Baptiste when he arrived at promotion-chasing Middlesbrough in the summer of 2015.
It might be the understatement of the century though to say that things didn’t go according to plan.
Just days after signing the defender, who starred for Ian Holloway’s Blackpool during their rollercoaster Premier League ride, made his debut in a rountine, sun-kissed friendly against York City.
But midway through the first half he came out on the wrong side of a 50-50 challenge, resulting in a broken leg, a double fracture no less, an injury that left Boro boss Aitor Karanka almost speechless post match as his new recruit left the field on a stretcher.
It was a long, hard road back for a player who had been relatively injury-free during his career but Baptiste did return to action before the season was out, spending time on loan with Sheffield United, and is now keen to kick on after joining North End on a season-long loan on deadline day.
“Last year was one of the worst years of my life,” said the 30-year-old.
“It was good to get some games at Sheffield United though and I want to kick on from there.
“It’s not a nice injury so say the least.
“When the lads at Middlesbrough were doing so well I was obviously happy for them but it was gutting not to be part of it.
“It’s football and these things can happen.
“I’ve been fortunate with injuries in the past and touch wood I will be now too.
“It’s happened but it’s in the past now.”
Heading back to Boro ahead of their return to the top flight it soon became apparent that opportunities would be limited at the Riverside Stadium as Karanka rebuilt his squad in a bid to stay in the Premier League.
Baptiste then bumped into his former Seasiders coach Steve Thompson, first team coach at PNE, as Blackpool legends came together to celebrate the career of Brett Ormerod at his testimonial last week.
Having also been signed by Lilywhites boss Simon Grayson for Blackpool back in 2008 it meant he wasn’t heading into an unfamiliar environment when he arrived at Deepdale on transfer deadline day.
“I know Steve Thompson and speak to him quite regularly,” said Baptiste.
“I saw him at Brett’s testimonial last Sunday and we were just talking football.
“I went back and spoke to Middlesbrough about my situation, not being in the squad, and they said that if I wanted to go out and play some regular football then I would go with their blessing.
“Things just went from there really.
“I don’t know a lot of the lads but I know the management staff and it’s always nice to have friendly faces.”
It’s not just the staff he knows but the area too.
Born in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Baptiste came through the ranks at Mansfield Town, playing more than 150 games for the club before being snapped up by Grayson at Bloomfield Road.
That was just the start of the North West tour though as after five successful years with Blackpool he moved onto Bolton Wanderers, his time at the Macron Stadium also including a loan spell with Blackburn Rovers.
Playing for some of North End’s near neighbours means Baptiste is also no stranger to Deepdale and the PNE supporters.
“It’s (the North West) like my adopted home,” said the versatile defender.
“I’ve played around here a lot and lived here for a few years.
“It’s good to be back home.
“I know the fans are passionate up here.
“When I’ve played against Preston the fans have been really good and the stadium is fantastic.”
Baptiste will bring experience to the PNE defence and also the ability to play in a number of positions across the backline.
One of two defenders signed on deadline day, his arrival was announced at the same time as that of Marnick Vermijl as the former loan star returned from Sheffield Wednesday on a permanent deal, signing a three-year contract.
“If I picked myself I’d be a centre half,” Baptiste, one of 10 new recruits since the end of last season, said.
“But I can play in both full back positions too.
“We’d played with three central defenders at Sheffield United too so I’m used to that as well.”
Baptiste is contracted to Boro beyond the end of this season and insists he isn’t looking to far ahead, instead simply concentrating on playing regular games again as he looks to get his career back on track.
“I’ve got another year left after this one, I’m on a season-long long, and I don’t know what the future holds after,” he said.
“My aim now I’m here it just to do the best for Preston North End.”
Despite North End being outsiders in the division, Baptiste believes the aim of every Championship player should be to reach the promised land of the Premier League, something he experienced with Blackpool in their rise to the top table via the play-offs in 2010.
PNE arguably overachieved last season as they finished 11th after promotion from League One with the second tier more competitive than ever this time around as Newcastle and Aston Villa spend big in a bid to bounce back at the first attempt.
Baptiste however insists all at Deepdale should always be striving for more as they bid to upset the odds again.
“I think if you don’t want to try and play in the Premiership then there’s no point playing football,” he said.
“As long as I’ve been in football that’s always been my aim.
“To be the best I can.
“I know the Championship is the hardest league if not the hardest.
“It’s a hard slog and I’m just here to help in any way I can.”