As Everton plan their summer transfer strategy the future of a player already at Goodison Park is dominating the discussion. Leighton Baines has been heavily linked with a move to Manchester United and David Moyes may face a battle to keep hold of the left-back who is vitally important to the Toffees cause.
Espousing Baines’ goal qualities in comparison to his Everton teammates before Jelavic and Pienaar is verging on faint praise, such was the impotency of Moyes’ side, but the fact remains that Baines chipped in with important goals at important times from either the penalty spot or a dead ball situation. Against Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sunderland, each before Christmas, Baines scored from 12 yards, while against Tamworth in the FA Cup Baines’ spot kick ended fears of an upset. His fifth goal of the season, at Swansea City, opened the scoring in a 2-0 Everton victory, curling a free-kick past Michel Vorm. In years past Baines has converted crucial efforts at Wembley against Manchester United and a last minute extra-time free-kick against Chelsea.
More than the bare facts, however, Baines has become a favourite amongst Evertonians for his attacking interplay in tandem with Pienaar. The South African’s propensity to cut inside and his vision to link with Baines gave Everton a left flank to compete with any in the division. Pienaar’s departure in January 2011 left Everton reeling but his return a year later revitalised the side, even if his new role gave him more freedom to roam. Baines still linked with Pienaar, though, and Everton were a team re-born, with the England international now just one of the strings in Everton’s attacking bow. The reliance on Baines may have faded as Pienaar came to the fore more centrally but the 27-year-old remains crucial to the team.
Retaining Pienaar long-term has long been Everton’s summer priority but United’s interest in Baines means keeping the defender is sure-fire second on the list, if not joint-first. Funding the purchase of Pienaar by selling Baines would be robbing Peter to pay Paul, strengthening in one move and weakening in another – international, goal scoring full-backs are not too common, and Everton do not have another senior left-back in the squad. If, however, United does make Everton an offer they cannot refuse – in the region of the £24m Manchester City paid for Joleon Lescott – Baines’ Everton career may be nearing an end.
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