Terry Dixon's injury-plagued two years of torture were put to bed last night as the youngster signed a two-and-a-half year deal with Gianfranco Zola's West Ham United. The powerfully built teenager was released by Tottenham Hotspur last year after a horrendous run of injuries looked to have ended his career...
Hailed as one of the brightest talents in the English Premier League, Dixon was called into the full Ireland team at the tender age of 16. But a dislocated kneecap left the youngster in the physio room for an extended period right as Martin Jol was about to bring him in the first team squad at Spurs.
After nine months of rehab, Dixon made his return but he dislocated the same knee in his first game back for the Academy. Another nine-month recovery ensued but after Spurs had consulted with knee specialists and surgeons it was decided that Dixon's knee would never allow him to play again and after Spurs paid up his contract he was released.
Dixon and his family were heartbroken after being released by the club that he had called home for over 10 years. Determined that he would make a full recovery, Dixon began to contact Premiership teams in the hope that they might take a chance on him.
Once hailed as the new Wayne Rooney, Dixon had many admirers and clubs the length and breath of Britain began contacting him in the hope that his knee might recover.
Liverpool, Arsenal, Celtic, Newcastle, and Wolverhampton Wanderers were all monitoring the situation closely but it was the club with probably the oldest tradition of producing quality players in England that stepped in, and Dixon found himself walking through the gates at Upton Park.
Hailed as the "Academy" in memory of the great football philosophers who have passed through it's doors, West Ham and the production of quality young players have become synonymous with each other.
The irony of West Ham signing the youngster will not be lost on Terry, as it was against West Ham in a youth match where his injury nightmare started.
Showing incredible determination to come back from an injury after being told he would never walk right again never mind play again Dixon has achieved the impossible. And after proving his fitness to West Ham the club then sent him to Belgium for extensive treatment.
Happy with the results the Hammers offered Dixon the piece of paper that he thought he would never see again. An ecstatic Dixon talked about signing his new deal yesterday.
"When Tottenham decided to pay up my contract and release me it was the worst day of my life.
"I wasn't just told I would never play for Spurs again, they said I would never play football again. I feel great. I've kicked a ball a few times and it all feels fine. I have a couple of niggling strains but that's normal when you've been out for so long.
"I dislocated my kneecap three times but I now do extra exercises before and after training to protect the area around the knee."
Dixon's next task is to get into the reserve team and to push for a squad berth with the first team before the end of the season. And with Gianfranco Zola giving youth its chance at West Ham Dixon has every chance of accomplishing this unlikely feat.
When asked about getting back to playing and the possibility of first team football at the Upton Park, Dixon had this to say.
"I looked at what I had achieved at what was such a young age and I couldn't believe it was over. One minute I'm playing with Robbie Keane and the next I'm being told I'll never play football again.
"My family and friends were great to me. People I've known since I was small kept supporting me. But it was really massive for me when a club like West Ham were prepared to take a gamble on me.
"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.”
He added: "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."
Christian Lattanzio is West Ham's resident Sports Psychologist who took on Dixon as a project and he began to rebuild the youngsters shattered confidence, telling Dixon every day that he was determined that his talent would not be wasted and that he would make sure he came through this period.
Lattanzio was also at the Academy game where Dixon had got injured initially and he was well aware of the mercurial talents the youth possessed.
West Ham United CEO Scott Duxbury said: "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."
A move for Terry Dixon after almost two years out of the game and West Ham could have signed a superstar of the future. If he only utilises half the determination that he has shown so far he could be a great player, here's hoping.