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The player who never gave up Prem dream: Courtney Baker-Richardson

Courtney Baker-Richardson
Courtney Baker-Richardson signed for Swansea this summer.

Just 0.012 percent of players in the organised youth game make it into Premier League, according to Michael Calvin's new book, "No Hunger in Paradise." But the story of Swansea striker Courtney Baker-Richardson is surely enough to restore the faith of any youngster dreaming of playing in the top flight.

The 21-year-old had spells at seven different non-league clubs -- he went on loan to Tamworth and Ilkeston, and then tried to make his name at Torquay, Kidderminster, Romulus, Nuneaton, Redditch, Kettering and Leamington -- after being rejected by Coventry at the end of a scholarship with his hometown club three years ago.

But, last summer, he finally got his move to the Premier League when the Swans snapped him up on a two-year deal after he had also attracted interest from Leicester.

"Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to be able to see what you actually want," Baker-Richardson told ESPN FC. "When I first came out of full-time football and didn't have a club, I just played on my Xbox for about a week in my room. You could say I was borderline depressed.

"It was hard but I needed to provide for myself. I couldn't disappoint my mum and be someone who gave their dream or their life away. She always pushed me and believed in me. The dedication she showed was second to none, and I wanted to do something for her."

Persistence and the support of mother Sheryl, whose home he continued to live in, and agent Lee Marsh, made the difference for Baker-Richardson, who has already trained with the Swansea first-team and made the bench in 4-1 win over MK Dons in the Carabao Cup.

He had believed the world of football was waiting for him after developing at Coventry from the age of 12, and the mentality he picked up in the academy system wasn't helpful.

"I made my debut for Coventry just after my 18th birthday and had been on the bench before that," Baker-Richardson said. "At that time, I had about 12 agents phoning me daily, trying to get me to sign for them.

"When Coventry said they weren't going to sign me I was adamant I would do it [get another club] for myself, but stuff didn't happen the way I thought it would.

"Whenever I tried to call the agents for advice, there were no answers, no call backs. They'd come back to me five days later and wouldn't be able to help.

"Having been in that environment at Coventry, you come out like most lads do from full-time football and think you are going to walk straight back into it. But reality hit, and it didn't pan out that way."

Baker-Richardson admitted he was "arrogant" at 18 and that his attitude may sometimes have got in the way. But, after teaming up with Marsh for a second time -- the first was during his time at Coventry -- he was told some hard truths and given the encouragement he needed.

"Courtney was a smart kid but he needed to grow up and now he gets it," Marsh told ESPN FC. "He went from club, to club, to club, but I told him not to worry about it. He was going to make it because he was an athlete and has mental strength."

Courtney Baker-Richardson
Coventry let the striker go and he struggled to get back into the game.

Baker-Richardson tried regular jobs to go with his part-time playing career, doing ground work and making deliveries, but admitted he found it "too hard"; grafting 9-5 and then training, travelling and playing was too draining.

He saved some money, did some coaching for a friend and lived off that, paying for strength and conditioning sessions twice a week to try to improve his chances of impressing on the pitch.

"I had to change my mentality a lot," he said.

Baker-Richardson's big break came after finding a manager who believed in him. He scored 26 goals in 74 appearances for Paul Holloran's Leamington side, including the extra-time winner in last season's playoff final that won them promotion to the National League North.

The striker learned more of the life skills that the Coventry youth scheme didn't give him and had to work hard to earn a place in the side, too. But he made it count when he was selected.

"I nearly gave up numerous times after Coventry but, in my head, I'm not a quitter so I kept pushing," he said. "Lee [Marsh] has been like a second dad to me but when he phoned me with Swansea's interest, I didn't know what to make of it. I wasn't sure whether he was talking about another Swansea in the Welsh league, or something."

Baker-Richardson admitted that moving away from home (and the distractions old friends might create) helped and his ambition now is to impress for the Under-23s at Swansea and grab any first-team chance that comes his way.

His advice to other youngsters trying to make their way in the game is simple: "You can't give up -- be persistent. If you want something bad enough, you have to go out and get it."


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