Wednesday, 11 February 2009

We Can Rebuild Him

West Ham United have completed the signing 19-year-old Irish striker Terry Dixon on a three-year contract. The Republic of Ireland youth international was released by Tottenham Hotspur in March of last year because of recurring knee problems but has proved his fitness to The Hammers' medical team after a two-month visit to a knee specialist in Belgium.

The official site states the United medical team, including head of rehabilitation Giorgio Gasparini, have worked tirelessly during Dixon's recovery and have been rewarded by the Archway-born player's dedication to proving he still has what it takes to make it at the highest level. Dixon's right knee has now been fully assessed and he just requires conditioning work to prepare himself for a playing return in the hope of catching Gianfranco Zola's eye.

Dixon was highly regarded a youth player and represented Ireland at every level before being called up to the full squad at 16 by the then manager Steve Staunton in May 2006, who at the time described him as a 'special talent'. He was then named on the bench for his country's friendly against Chile that month and was rewarded for his progress by being named Ireland's Under-17 Player of Year for 2006.

The flame-haired striker, who cites Wayne Rooney as his favourite player, is delighted to have committed his future to West Ham United and is looking forward to getting back on the pitch. "I'm pleased to have signed the contract and I'm glad to have got it sorted," Dixon said. "I'm back in training next week and hopefully I want to push on to the first team towards the end of the season. I'm so relieved to be back to fitness as it's just so annoying to have those niggles because you have been out for so long. My aims for this season are to get matches under my belt for the reserves and if I do well there, hopefully I can get into the first-team squad. I want to repay the faith the club have shown in me, if not this season then season after."

Dixon also paid tribute to the medical team at Chadwell Heath that has aided his comeback. "The fitness team have done a lot of work with me to make my leg a lot stronger and my knee never swells up now. It's just like my other one, it feels fine. I'm just glad West Ham took the chance on me and hopefully it will pay off. I'd like to thank Christian Lattanzio and Giorgio Gasparini for all the work they have done."

The former Tottenham Hotspur starlet was forced to curtail his fledging career at White Hart Lane after an endless flurry of injury problems left the player unable to be certain of a long term future at the club. The academy striker had consistently been touted as one of our most promising potential talents during his time in North London before the decision was taken to let Dixon further his career elsewhere.

"Following meetings with Terry Dixon, his family and his representatives at which his long term recovery and future well being after an unfortunate sequence of severe injuries were discussed, the Player has now left the club," a Spurs statement read at the time. "The Academy striker, who featured on a number of occasions for our Reserve side, suffered a dislocated kneecap, which ruled him out for the entire 2006-07 season before he was able to return to action at the beginning of this campaign. The 18-year-old, however, suffered the same injury again in mid-September during an Academy League fixture and underwent further surgery and extensive rehabilitation. We wish Terry every success for the future."

Dixon had been called up to the Republic of Ireland squad two years ago and had made numerous appearances for the Tottenham Hotspur reserves however had never managed to break through into the first team squad with Spurs. With all the furore that surrounded the call-up of Theo Walcott into Sven-Goran Eriksson's England World Cup squad in the same week, Dixon's shock international selection went largely unnoticed. Yet the noises coming out of White Hart Lane at the time suggested Dixon's potential was just as big. At age 16, the second-youngest player ever to be called into the Republic's senior squad, the striker had already impressed many with a series of starring performances behind the front two in Ireland's Uefa Under-17 European Championship qualifiers. Strong and skilful, his play drew comparisons to England's Wayne Rooney. The consensus back then — among his coaches, his fellow players and the senior Irish internationals who were knocked out by impression the big, red-headed lad made on them in Portugal — was that Dixon would go on to become not just a successful professional footballer but, potentially, a great one.

Then came a succession of horrendous injury setbacks which turned his life upside down, replacing the buzz of training and matches with the torture of surgery and rehabilitation. It’s understood that the specialists who had tried to rebuild the player’s shattered knee were of the opinion that it would never stand up to the rigours of intensive training, never mind the pressure of top-flight football itself. The clear implication then was that, at the age of just 18, Terry’s career as a professional footballer was effectively over. People close to the Londoner suggest that he never fully absorbed the news and always believed he could continue to play at a high level in the game.

"People knew that I'd had injury problems for the last while," Dixon explained. "People within football knew that I had left Tottenham so word got around that I had finished, I had retired, but that's not the case. There are no guarantees and I have a bit of a way to go, but I do hope that I will be able to play football again. At what level, and with any success, I don't know, no one knows that now. I had a real high in my career, in my life, when I was in the Ireland squad and on the bench for a game at Lansdowne Road. If that was the high, the real low was leaving Tottenham. But I do have a real hope that I will be able to play football, at least earn a living from football and see where it takes me after that."

Dixon remains mentally strong and is determined to fulfill his ambitions. "At the moment I can do some jogging and some work with leg weights, I have done a bit of passing and some ball work so that was good for me, to work with a ball again," he enthused. "There's a long road ahead of me and I have a good family and friends around me but it's good to know that people in football were also interested and wanted to sign me. I will try and get fit and give it a go. This could be my last chance, so I have no reason not to try. I haven't achieved anything in football really, I haven't played a club game and I haven't played for Ireland, I want to do both of them so hopefully the knee can clear up, I can get fit and achieve my goals. If I can't play again and if I have to quit, at least I know that I tried, and I will do something else. I have been doing coaching courses and I want to stay in the game so I'll see what the future holds for me."

West Ham United CEO Scott Duxbury added: "This signing is a testament to our medical and technical departments for all the work they have put in to get Terry to this point. He has worked very hard in the past few months and we have all been impressed with his determination to start playing again. His talent is undoubted. We know that Tottenham felt they had reached the end of the road with Terry but we are hopeful he can yet prove himself and build a successful career. He is certainly in the best place to do that and I am sure if anyone can get the best out of him it will be Gianfranco Zola and his coaching staff."

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