Pompey title hero: I played through the pain in every match

Carl Baker played through the pain barrier to help Pompey win the League Two title last season
Carl Baker played through the pain barrier to help Pompey win the League Two title last season
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Carl Baker has revealed how he endured a season playing through the pain to help Pompey to the League Two title.

Now the winger is finally injury-free and bidding to fix himself up with a new club before the current campaign expires.

Carl Baker, right, celebrates Pompey's League Two title success with team-mates Noel Hunt and Gary Roberts

Carl Baker, right, celebrates Pompey's League Two title success with team-mates Noel Hunt and Gary Roberts

The 35-year-old’s final Blues appearance arrived in the August Checkatrade Trophy clash with Fulham Under-21s.

A subsequent switch to Indian Super League club ATK was wrecked by injury in its infancy, during a pre-season friendly.

It was discovered a grade one tear in his Achilles was the least of his concerns – there was also the escalation of the tendonitis which has dogged his career in recent years.

The outcome means the likeable Liverpudlian has not played competitively for approaching seven months.

It’s like toothache – but in your Achilles. It doesn’t stop you doing anything, you can still chew and go to work, but it’s constantly painful

Carl Baker

The problem scuppered his deal with the Kolkata-based club, with Baker returning to his Solihull home to commence his long recuperation.

Remarkably, despite ongoing tendonitis, he missed just one league match during last season’s capture of the League Two crown, featuring 45 times and scoring nine goals.

But, eventually, painkillers could no longer mask the agonising issue, with Baker still dealing with the aftermath.

He told The News: ‘I was in India playing against a team from the north east and, just as I was running, I went to push off and felt a little pop in the back of my Achilles.

‘At the time it wasn’t actually too painful and I walked off the pitch.

‘I went for a scan a couple of days later and it was a grade-one strain, which is the littlest one, not a major thing. The strain healed after 4-6 weeks – but the tendonitis was the real problem.

‘I’ve had tendonitis for ages, right the way back towards the end of my time at MK Dons, and had it in every game I played for Portsmouth.

‘It’s like toothache – but in your Achilles. It doesn’t stop you doing anything, you can still chew and go to work, but it’s constantly painful.

‘It’s an overuse injury which you can manage and play through, but sometimes you’d wake up in the morning and it would be really stiff and sore.

‘So I would take painkillers before every match and get through it.

‘Once it has warmed up and you get into the game, with the help of adrenalin and stuff, you didn’t really feel it that much.

‘However, before and after it hurt, so you would receive treatment on it all week. That’s part and parcel of what you do.

‘A lot of players will have niggles the fans or media won’t realise. You’ll do well to find someone in the Premier League 100-per-cent fit with no issues. The games are thick and fast and you put your body through so much.

‘But it just got to the point where I played through the pain too much and it popped that day in India, which sort of forced me to do something.

‘I have been out longer than I first thought it was going to be, but I’m back running, twisting and turning, sprinting and doing ball work.

‘I am now very close to being available.

‘And I’ll be able to play for a few years yet.’

Baker arrived at Fratton Park in June 2016, having turned down the offer of a new deal at MK Dons.

He went on to establish himself on the right of Paul Cook’s attacking three, offering a valuable source of assists and goals with either foot.

When Kenny Jackett was recruited in the summer, he named Baker in his maiden team for the League One opener against Rochdale, albeit in a central midfield role.

However, with the opportunity to reunite with former club Coventry nearer his family home, there was an inevitability over his departure.

Although, following a mutually-agreed exit on August deadline day, Baker had a last-gasp change of heart.

He added: ‘When I agreed to leave Portsmouth, there was a contract at Coventry, it was all written out and we had agreed terms.

‘It was only the day before – or even on the day – that I received a phone call from ATK’s manager Teddy Sheringham, which made me assess what I was going to be doing.

‘Obviously, it was a good opportunity, I always wanted to have new experiences and try different things towards the end of my carer. When that came up I thought if I didn’t take it then it probably would never happen again.

‘I am so glad I did because I absolutely loved the three months out there, it was a great experience even for that short time.

‘If I can get out there again it would be great, we’ll see what happens.

‘It was class, they are very, very good, we were treated like kings, 60-70,000 fans in massive stadiums, the hotels were lovely, the food was lovely, you couldn’t fault it really.

‘I would like to go there next season and get a full campaign injury-free, but that is a million miles away in my mind at the minute.

‘I’m just concentrating on getting fit and getting some games, ideally in England, before end of the season. Then sit down and reassess.’

Baker totalled 50 appearances at Pompey, with three of his nine goals netted during the title run-in, including the match-winner at Mansfield.

Widely acknowledged as one of the fittest of Cook’s squad, naturally he has set about his rehabilitation with enthusiasm, training with Coventry.

For Baker, this is definitely not the end.

He said: ‘I haven’t wanted to rush it because, ideally, I want to keep playing for another couple of years and not come back too soon when it’s not settled down and sore.

‘I’ve tried to do it right and give my body a rest, and hopefully when I come back in the next few weeks somewhere then I’ll be able to contribute.

‘I feel so good, my Achilles is probably the best it has felt for years and if it stays like this I will be very happy.

‘I could play four or five games and it may go sore again, you don’t know until it happens, but fingers crossed I have learnt how to manage it.

‘At Pompey and MK Dons it was probably 7/10 pain-wise – now it is probably down to a 4.

‘I feel really, really good for having that break.

‘And, being a free agent, I’ll be looking to get somewhere until the end of the season – then go from there.’