Dealing with the latter issue first, it would not be as simple as parachuting any defender into Baines’ place. The former Wigan Athletic player is more than a full-back to Everton. The current Player and Players’ Player of the Year, Baines has grown to become Everton’s most common attacking outlet, and one of the most effective and reliable. Overlapping full-backs are commonplace in modern football but few in the Premier League can match Baines’ output – Baines scored seven goals last season, claimed 11 assists, put in 351 crosses, the most in the top flight, and played in every minute of every Everton match. Baines is also a deadly penalty taker and lethal free-kick taker – witness his iron nerve spot kick against former club Wigan to give Everton a late point at the DW Stadium in April and his stunning extra time free-kick against Chelsea in the FA Cup to salvage a draw in a match Everton eventually won on penalties. It was not a fluke, either, as earlier in the year Tottenham Hotspur felt the sting of Baines’ left foot with an equally spectacular strike.
Baines’ hypothetical replacement would need to be a winger and a full-back rolled into one. Defensively sound and offensively dangerous, there are few players Everton could realistically attract in the mould to replace Baines should he become a Manchester City player. Wayne Bridge, City’s unwanted former England defender, has been mooted as part of a swap deal, but as Bridge is soon to turn 31, five years Baines’ senior, with a history of injuries, playing just 51 games for City in two-and-a-half years, compared to Baines’ 45 for Everton last season alone, it would be a stop-gap replacement at best. That is not considering Baines’ superior attacking qualities that saw him manage more than double the goals in the previous campaign than Bridge has in his whole career. The left side of Everton’s midfield has also been a concern since Steven Pienaar’s departure, but Baines’ rampaging attacks have papered over the crack so well it has largely been forgotten.
Bridge is not the only City player suggested as part of a players-plus-cash deal. Emmanuel Adebayor, fresh from his loan spell with Real Madrid, has been discussed, as has Shaun Wright-Phillips and Craig Bellamy. Adebayor and Bellamy would contribute towards the Toffees’ bereft strike force, while Bellamy and Wright-Phillips would inject much needed speed into a one-paced Everton line-up, but it is questionable whether the financially-stricken Blues could afford the wages currently paid to the trio by the lighter-hued Manchester side. Money is of course the only reason Everton would even entertain selling Baines, and a fee of £10m plus players has been reported, with Everton valuing the player at closer to £20m. It would take all of that fee and more to prise Baines from the hands of David Moyes, and even then, Everton may discover that Baines was actually priceless.