Wanderers’ own ‘Benjamin Button’ is showing no signs of slowing down as he approaches two decades as a professional footballer.
Alex Baptiste made his debut just over 18 years ago for Mansfield Town against Barnsley but will be lacing up his boots again this weekend to help Bolton start life in League One.
Now 35, the defender has looked in good form over the summer and proved one of Ian Evatt’s most reliable lieutenants in last season’s promotion push.
Evatt – who played alongside Baptiste for five years at Blackpool – saluted his former team-mate’s conditioning as he embarks upon another campaign.
“He just continues to amaze me,” he told The Bolton News. “He is like Benjamin Button, that is what he is!
“He is amazing physically, so he’s going to take some shifting, but it’s what we want and it’s competitive.”
The last time Evatt and Baptiste played in the same team was November 2012, a 1-1 draw against Bristol City. Also in the team that day were Matt Gilks and Nathan Delfouneso.
There has been a strong Blackpool contingent in the Wanderers dressing room since Evatt took charge last summer but he says the dynamic between his former comrades has now changed significantly.
“People that know me know I don’t do anything for friends,” he said. “I didn’t bring Alex Baptiste in as a mate, I brought him in because I know what he can do, and I know the effect he will have on the team and the group.
“It is the same with Matt Gilks, the same with the coaching staff – they are all here because they bring something, not because they're my friends and I have played with them.
“Mine and Alex’s relationship has changed more than anybody’s. We don’t speak anymore, other than manager and player, which is a shame for our personal relationship, but it is what needs to be done to set the right example for everybody else.”
Evatt reckons the fact that Baptiste looks a shoo-in to start in central defence against MK Dons is testament to his attitude – and one he hopes will inspire some of the younger players in the dressing room.
“Alex is a wonderful professional on and off the pitch,” he said. “He is an example to the younger players and younger players should be watching how he carries himself day to day, in his training and also in his match.
“He is the one outside of training that will finish doing extra running, keeping himself fit, in the gym more than everyone else, looks after his body 24/7 and that’s what young players need to do nowadays to get the best out of themselves.”
Competition at centre-half is strong, with George Johnston making a claim to start against MK with his scoring display against Blackburn Rovers at the weekend.
“Add to that the fact we have got our player of the year (Ricardo Santos) sat at home and he has got to come back into that,” Evatt added. “And we have got Will Aimson out of that as well, so when you think about that squad it is exciting.”
Harry Brockbank has also been used at centre-back during he summer and Evatt believes he can reap the benefit of his versatility in the coming months.
“The positive is that Brocky’s the type of player that you could put him anywhere and he’ll give you 110 per cent,” he said. “We are fortunate that he is a utility man and we can move him around.
“Obviously needs must and at the moment with no Rico and no Will and George having one day’s training, so we have needed to use Brocky in that position and young Adam Senior, who has done fantastic as well.
“We are developing our young players all the time and it is also great to see Dennis back on the pitch in the first team at the UniBol and also Ronan Darcy.
“We have got options all over the pitch and I’m really happy with where we are at.”