The visit of Wigan Athletic to Everton’s Goodison Park on Saturday inevitably brings former Latics full-back and Toffees’ No 3 Leighton Baines to the fore. But what more can be said about the England international after Baines has piled up the praise and individual awards over the last few years in David Moyes’s side?
Jack Rodwell was the latest name to laud the two-time Everton Players’ Player of the Year and current Player of the Year, telling the Liverpool
The statistics supporting Rodwell’s argument are well worn, but bear repeating for their sheer impressiveness. Baines scored seven goals last season to finish as Everton’s joint-third highest goal scorer, netted five times in the Premier League alone to end the season as the highest-scoring defender in the division, had 11 assists to his name, was the only player not to miss a minute of Everton’s 44 games – Sylvain Distin started every game but only played 80 minutes against Aston Villa – and helped the Everton defence concede only 45 goals in 38 league games. With all that in mind, one might wonder just how much more important Baines could get.
Including loans and players bought for the youth team, Moyes has signed some 72 players in almost a decade as Everton manager and only Tim Cahill – 2004’s £2.5m purchase from Millwall – could honestly be said to have had the same impact as Baines upon his arrival from Wigan in 2007. For an initial £5m fee, rising to £6m on appearances, Everton bought a one-man left flank, a player capable of defending and attacking with equal effectiveness, and an able taker of free-kicks – witness his effort at Tottenham Hotspur last season – corners and penalties. The latter also speaks to Baines’ character; not just the spot kick converted against Aston Villa last weekend but also last season’s last-minute penalty against former club Wigan that gave Everton a vital three points.
It would be unfair on Baines’s teammates to describe Everton as a one-man team, particularly in the wake of last weekend’s strong team performance against Villa, but certainly there is no Everton player that currently has the same impact as Baines in every area of the pitch, nor one who can be relied upon quite so heavily. The teaching Baines received at Wigan may have been what first alerted Moyes to the Kirkby-born player’s ability, but since swapping the Latics blue-and-white stripes for the royal blue of Everton Baines has grown in stature. After a disheartening summer for Evertonians, the continued presence of Baines is a comforting reminder of the quality remaining in the side.
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