George Baldock admitted it was a difficult decision to cut short his loan deal with Oxford United, but it was a risk he had to take for the sake of his career.
The Dons defender was halfway through a season-long stint at the Kassam Stadium when he was warned of his impending return to stadium:mk at the beginning of January.
But without first team assurances from Dons boss Karl Robinson, Baldock said he was heading into the unknown.
“When I came back, I did wonder whether I was going to even play,” he admitted.
“It was hard to leave Oxford. I was always going to back myself to come back and get in the team, but I didn’t know if I was coming back to sit on the bench. The gaffer told me to come back and relax and not to over-think things.”
Having spent time out on loan in Iceland, Northampton and Tamworth before his Oxford switch, Baldock is no stranger to the loan system.
But while his previous spells saw a teenager out gaining experience, Baldock’s loan with Oxford was arranged with a different purpose - game time.
Still new to playing at right back, Baldock found himself third in the pecking order at Dons behind Jordan Spence and Lee Hodson.
“At that stage of my career, if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t be where I am,” he said. “I’d tell any young lad to go out and play men’s football. Learn what it’s like to get three points on a Saturday, to play for your livelihood. I was playing huge wingers, I was winning headers, 50/50 tackles - the stuff you don’t learn in youth football.
“I’m still new to this position, so it was vital for me to get that experience.
“Oxford was a fantastic time for me - any youngster looking for a loan deal, I’d recommend them. The way they play, you’re able to flourish and the gaffer wants you to go out and express yourself.”
Baldock was keen to approach his loan spell not as an MK Dons player, but an Oxford player. It meant having little contact with his parent club, though he knew the backroom staff were keeping a keen eye on his progress.
“I wouldn’t have much contact,” he admitted. “They let me get on with it. Keith Andrews was brilliant, he watched me a lot. But we played an FA Cup replay and there was the gaffer, his daughter, the chairman and his wife, Richie Barker, Keith and his wife! They were still involved and watching, but they didn’t want to give me much input.
“As much as I went away from the club, they came away from me to let me concentrate on being an Oxford player.”
Giving his all to the Oxford cause endeared him to the Kassam faithful, just as he did to those at stadium:mk who cried out for his recall during his spell.
“Maybe my work ethic?” he said when asked what makes him so popular. “I like to think I play an exciting brand of football, I like to attack and I put my body on the line. These were things I used to love seeing when I was a fan going to watch football.
“It’s massive. A footballer would be lying if they told you the fans don’t influence which club you should be at. When I was at Oxford, the fans were unbelievable - very similar to MK fans in the way they took to me.
“But I couldn’t ask for a better set of fans than the MK fans. As soon as I went out to warm-up at Cardiff they were singing my name. It settles you down, makes you feel welcome. Long may it continue.”