Leighton Baines was crowned Everton’s Player of the Season and Players’ Player of the Year this week as David Moyes’ side prepare for the final Premier League game of the season against deposed champions Chelsea, who also provided the opposition for one of Baines’ and the Toffees’ most memorable moments of the campaign, the FA Cup penalty shootout victory over Carlo Ancelotti’s Londoners.
It was Baines’ last minute extra time free-kick that took the February fourth round replay to penalties after Frank Lampard had put the Stamford Bridge side in front in the first-half of added time. Phil Neville scored the winning spot kick – after Baines had missed – but the Everton full-back overshadowed his Chelsea counterpart Ashley Cole, another who erred from 12 yards, and staked a claim for Cole’s England place, in perhaps the crowning glory of an excellent season for the former Wigan Athletic player.
Baines’ recognition as Everton’s standout player during 2010/11 was well deserved, and has come in the same season as more frequent international involvement, as well as leading to a multitude of transfer rumours. Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Bayern Munich have each been linked to the 26-year-old, but the five year contract Baines signed last summer would make snatching him from Goodison Park an expensive exercise. Moyes paid Wigan a total of £6m to bring Baines to Merseyside from the Latics, and with both his long term deal still fresh and his importance to Everton growing with every year, even twice that amount is unlikely to tempt the manager into cashing in on his star defender.
Not only has Baines been the only outfield Everton player to play every minute of every game this season, the full-back has been a creative force too. Across all competitions Baines has found the net seven times – making him Everton’s third-highest scorer this season – as well as 12 assists, numbers to make a winger proud. Baines has shouldered the creative burden for Everton this season after the departure of Steven Pienaar and the loss of form of Mikel Arteta, and his haul for this year marks a significant improvement on last season’s tally of two goals and 10 assists.
Everton have been bereft of goals and creative inspiration for large spells of the season about to end, but, as the statistics show, Baines has chipped in more than his fair share. The penalty miss against Sunday’s opponents was also out of character, as shown by the three penalties converted in five games in April, including one against his former team Wigan, which should put to bed the tales of a lack of character that have dogged Baines since his World Cup exclusion last summer. A goal-scoring, goal-making, attacking full-back, Baines, who also received the Goal of the Season gong for the free-kick curled past Chelsea, is every inch the modern footballer. After playing a central role in one memorable Everton victory over Chelsea, Baines has the chance to sign off in similar style.