Post by Everton News. on Jul 26, 2020 18:33:30 GMT
Baines - The retiring Everton Icon
There is a reason we remember the storybook sporting farewells.
It is because they are don’t happen very often.
Sport provides the greatest drama because it is unscripted.
Its participants spend their careers fighting the external forces conspiring against them – opponents, injuries, fortune, the whims of a referee, all among the factors having a say in individual narratives.
By extension, sportspeople rarely get to orchestrate their exits.
But in the case of Leighton Baines, you suspect the stars aligned for the fabulous left-back’s Everton goodbye.
The empty stadium and minimal camera flashes. The absence of fuss and fanfare and schmaltz and fireworks and 40,000 pairs of eyes fixed on one of the Club’s finest full-backs.
After 13 years and on his 420th appearance – he stands 13th in Everton’s all-time list – Baines stealthily slipped out the back door.
For the understated 35-year-old from Kirkby, this was picture perfect.
Baines’s preference for operating in the shadows further endeared him to Evertonians and fed into the impression of a singular individual, the antithesis of the stereotypical in-your-face footballer of popular misconception.
That same reluctance to thrust himself into the spotlight perhaps cost Baines the footballer the wider acclaim he was due.
But he will never want for adulation at Goodison Park.
Office for National Statistics figures in 2017 revealed Leighton was the 98th most popular name in the north west, against 201st across England and Wales.
For a period of five years or so, Baines could rightfully have claimed to be the best at his job on the planet.
In the four seasons between 2009/10 and 2012/13, Baines was twice Everton’s player of the season, three times named players’ player of the season and on two occasions included in the PFA team of the year.
He was, belatedly, England’s first-choice left-back at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Baines would be aghast at the idea of pumping up his own tyres – or pressing for others to do his bidding for him.
But he should be retiring with double his 30 international caps, at least.
You fancy he’d have traded the lot for a major trophy with Everton.
It is a measure of how Baines is viewed by Evertonians that his legacy as a Club great is assured, regardless of that silverware aberration.
Think of Everton for more than half a decade from about 2008 – when Baines and Steven Pienaar were first united – and one of the enduring images is of the marauding defender, roaming upfield with his short, busy stride.
Gary Neville confessed being tormented by the entrancing left-sided Everton pair in a game at Goodison Park tipped him closer to retirement.
It is relevant to mention here that former Manchester United right-back Neville, who won 55 more England caps than Baines and multiple domestic and European honours, called it quits after he was given the runaround by West Bromwich Albion winger Jerome Thomas.
Baines has been an active participant in the rewriting of the job specification for a modern-day full-back.
The position already demanded more than shackling your winger – letting him know you’re there early, preventing crosses and shutting down an avenue of attack – when Baines began with Wigan Athletic 18 years ago.
With his astonishing fitness levels, Stakhanovite spirit, stickability and comfort on the ball, he fitted the bill for a dynamic role designed by the likes of Brazilian Roberto Carlos and Bixente Lizarazu, the swashbuckling left-back who won the World Cup with France in 1998.
But as he progressively became comfortable in his own skin at Everton after joining in the late summer of 2007, there was something unique about Baines’s raiding.
He had the ball on a string, for one thing.
But his rhythmic movement and appreciation of space, the underlapping and overlapping and give and goes and accurate crosses high and low, combined to set the Everton player apart.
Pundits today see an emerging left-back with attacking tendencies and a stature similar to the compact Baines and rush to draw what they consider is an obvious parallel.
It is a judgement which overlooks the sustained excellence of Baines.
For a decade-plus he influenced games more often than not and in six seasons from 2009/10 started 209 of Everton’s 228 Premier League matches.
Of his team’s 152 top-flight fixtures in the opening four of those campaigns Baines missed only six.
Baines jokes about having to wait for Mikel Arteta to leave in August 2011 before claiming first dibs on free-kicks.
He clearly pulled rank earlier the same year when curling home a dead ball in the closing minutes of extra-time to level an FA Cup tie at Chelsea.
Picking up the baton full time, Baines’s mesmerising free-kick double at West Ham United’s old Upton Park home in September 2013 prompted comparisons with Kevin Sheedy in his pomp.
There could be no greater tribute to a left foot capable of extraordinary deeds.
The pick of the bunch from Baines perhaps came away against Newcastle United, nine months before he befuddled West Ham, when the player’s tracer-bullet 30-yard strike plotted an unerring trajectory into the top corner.
His penchant for the spectacular and sense of timing both survived into the Baines’s final season.
He lodged a compelling argument to win his club’s goal-of-the-season award with a crackerjack strike to take Everton’s League Cup tie with Leicester City to penalties.
Speaking of penalties, Baines scored 25 for Everton. Of the three he missed, one ended up in the net off goalkeeper Shay Given nonetheless.
He would have added to his total from 12 yards were it not for his selflessness, Baines more than once prioritising the long-term health of his team and passing on penalty duties if he suspected a striker could do with a leg-up.
He has scored 20 times from the spot in the Premier League, second highest of any defender to play in the division behind former Everton centre-half David Unsworth.
Spoken testimony to Baines’ professionalism has been forthcoming of late.
Everton Head of Physical Conditioning Francesco Mauri credited Baines and fellow titan Seamus Coleman with making his job easier by setting formidable examples in training every day.
Carlo Ancelotti, who knows a thing or two about left-backs after sharing an AC Milan dressing room with Frank Rijkaard and Paolo Maldini before managing the latter, as well as Ashley Cole and David Alaba, was attempting to convince Baines to resist retirement within months of being appointed Everton boss.
If it’s tangible evidence of Baines’s enduring application and quality you’re after, then dig out a tape of Everton’s visit to Manchester United in December.
The description lightly run does a disservice to Baines’s tenuous involvement in the season until he was summoned to replace the stricken Lucas Digne after 25 minutes at Old Trafford.
He was immaculate, making a nonsense of the fact his football since being forced off injured against Wolves 10 months earlier amounted to a brief runout against Chelsea the previous week.
Baines continued in the same vein whenever he was called on, applying his wit and experience to handle Arsenal’s lightening Nicolas Pepe and Newcastle United scuttler DeAndre Yedlin in the same assured fashion he dealt with fleet-footed Dan James and Marcus Rashford of Manchester United.
Three former Premier League players recounted their final matches for a newspaper article this weekend.
Martin Keown’s valedictory appearance felt like “any other game”. Chris Sutton had “far from the perfect ending and it was a “sad farewell” for Jamie Redknapp.
These recollections will resonate with old pros from all corners of elite sport.
We recall Vincent Kompany leaving Manchester City in a blaze of glory and the century scored by Sir Alastair Cook in the watery Oval sunshine to bring down the curtain on his Test match career two years ago because these triumphant goodbyes are the outliers.
“Fairytales do happen” commented one of Cook’s predecessors, Michael Vaughan, who scored 0 and 17 in the last of his 82 Tests, a defeat by South Africa.
Baines regards the past 13 years in similar terms.
When Wigan agreed to have a look at him on the recommendation of Everton scout Sid Benson, Baines knew he was in the last chance saloon.
“I dread to think about what I'd be doing now if I hadn't got that opportunity,” Baines confessed at the height of his Everton career.
Equally, the thought of Everton without the distinctive and reliable Baines after all this time will take some getting used to.
His legion of admirers would have cherished the opportunity to give the classy left-back and classy man the send-off he deserved.
But Leighton Baines finished exactly how he played his 420 matches for Everton.