The lack of a dependable left back had been something of a problem for Everton during their first few seasons under David Moyes — none of Gary Naysmith, Nuno Valente and Alessandro Pistone had proved able to either produce consistency of form or fitness — which is what prompted the manager to send £6m (an initial £5m, with the rest dependent on appearances) the way of Wigan Athletic in a bid to finally solve that area of the first team in August 2007.
At the time, it was the third-highest fee Everton had paid for a player — it was eclipsed a couple of weeks later when Yakubu arrived for £11.25m — and Baines signed a five-year deal, signalling the faith Moyes had in the 22-year-old as a long-term prospect.
He was also a local lad from Kirkby... and the inevitable question of whether his boyhood preference was for Everton or Liverpool was confounded by interest in both clubs but, as he told The Guardian:
"I was only young. I lost interest in Liverpool, but I still loved watching football. I was at the 1995 FA Cup final [aged 9, when Everton beat Manchester United 1-0]... And then I started watching Everton properly when I was about 14. My Mum wouldn't let me go on my own but my cousin was three years older than me so we'd get the bus, 50p from Kirkby, and then hang around outside until we could sneak in.
"We'd wait until they opened the gates after 75 minutes for the early-leavers to go. There were stewards on the gates and if they were in a good mood they would wink and let us in. One guy, in particular, used to look out for us. But sometimes, if we were unlucky, there would be a jobsworth on the door and we wouldn't get to see anything."
As a youngster, Baines played Sunday league for a team called Key Ways alongside future professionals Ryan Taylor (who ended up at Newcastle) and David Nugent (Portsmouth and Leicester, among others) and appears to have had two different trials with Everton without being accepted to Academy. When Liverpool opted to go with the trainee left back they already had in their ranks, Baines felt like it was the end of the world:
"Everyone in your family and your friends are either Red or Blue. I came home that day and thought that was it. To be told I was not good enough was a massive blow. From there I went to Wolves and played a trial match.
"They were happy with me and wanted me to come back but at the same time I played a couple of games for Wigan and they wanted me to sign. Geographically it was easier for my parents, so that's where I went and where I stayed."
He had two years' Premier League experience under his belt and was an England U21 international when he arrived at Goodison Park after being persuaded to leave Wigan. So it was no surprise that he was an automatic first-team choice at the start of the season... once he'd overcome an injury sustained in pre-season that prevented him from playing in the season opener against his old team, Wigan.
He eventually made his debut in the home game against Blackburn and was first choice at left-back until he succumbed to back-to-back injuries that sidelined him for the best part of two months. First, he was the victim of a terrible tackle at Derby County at the end of October that sidelined him for all of November; then, his comeback was cut short in early December when he tore a hamstring and wasn't fit to return until New Year's Day 2008.
With Joleon Lescott performing superbly as a makeshift left-back, it then became hard for Baines to re-establish himself in the team. He did well enough with the chances he got, but it was piecemeal and lacked the continuity needed for him to prove his worth despite prophetic words from Moyes that he would be Everton's first-choice left-back for many years to come.
The left-back has been plagued by fitness problems since he arrived at Goodison and finally had the operation in May 2008 to remove a piece of bone on his ankle.
Three starts in three games of the new 2008-09 season suggested that David Moyes would finally utilise his big-money buy in that left-back slot as he had promised, and Baines looked reasonably solid. He went on to secure the left-back position and strike up an excellent partnership with Steven Pienaar down Everton's left.
Baines continued to post an excellent record of consistency in Everton's 2009-10 campaign, missing only one league game through injury. He didn't score that many goals but he was Everton's top provider with an impressive 11 assists in the league an 14 overall. That wasn't enough to get him into the England World Cup team, though — probably just as well — but on 30 June 2010 he signed a new five-year contract with Everton.
He later dismissed claims that potential homesickness lay behind Fabio Capello's decision to omit him from England's final 23-man squad for the World Cup; Baines's admission that he would miss his family if selected for South Africa was used against him by the media in the days before Capello announced his final squad.
"In the build-up to the World Cup the media is crazy," he said. "I am not used to dealing with the media on that level.
"I was down after the Mexico game but I was down because I had played rubbish. We had one day where we could go home and I ended an interview after that game by saying I want to shoot off, my family is here, I want to get back up the road. I was asked if I didn't like being away and I said it was the hardest part of the game but it's the same for every player, you go away and you miss your family. It's natural. Not once did I mention the word 'homesick' but that is the way it was manipulated."
Baines turned out to be one of the few Everton players who would perform at anything close to their full potential in the hugely disappointing 2010-11 season. Leading provider with 11 assists, he capped that with an excellent goal of his own at Manchester City that culminated from some splendid Everton build-up play down the left, even though his usual partner, Pienaar was absent.
And Pienaar was destined to disappear in January, yet, despite the lost link-up play, Baines remained equally effective as Everton's best provider, and he even stepped up with what was prematurely heralded as the Goal of the Season — a fabulously executed free-kick in the dying moments of a tough FA Cup 4th Round tie at Chelsea that earned Everton extra time and a brilliant penalty shoot-out victory over Moyes's nemesis team. He would later justifiably receive the club's Player of the Season accolade and be heavily linked with a big-ticket move to Arsenal.
Thankfully, that move away from Goodison didn't transpire in the summer of 2011 and Baines, as committed to life at Everton as ever, started the 2011-12 season in familiarly consistent fashion, albeit stunted from an attacking perspective from the lack of a consistent partner down the left flank.
That would be rectified in January 2012, however, with the return of his favourite partner, Steven Pienaar, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, and, if anything, the resulting chemistry was better than ever.
Baines was rewarded with a rare honour for an Everton player: being picked as one of a select XI representing the PFA Team of the Season 2011-12. He was announced as the Everton Supporters' Player of the Season, and he would go on to join England's Euro2012 squad alongside teammate Phil Jagielka.
His increasingly impressive performances for the Blues led to covetous attention from other clubs and, starting in the summer of 2012, seemingly endless speculation that he would be lured away by Manchester United. Though many media outlets would stick doggedly with the narrative, the move never happened and he went on to have one of his most successful seasons at Everton, become one of the best goal providers in Europe, and demonstrate tremendous consistency from the penalty spot.
If the veracity of Sir Alex Ferguson's interest in Baines had never entirely been nailed down, there would be no doubt in the close season of 2013 that United were persuing him once Moyes had left Goodison and taken the assumed the hotseat for his ill-fated 10-month spell in charge at Old Trafford. The then champions put in a derisory double-bid for both Baines and Fellaini that was summarily rejected by Everton and Baines would go on to confirm his commitment to the Blues the following January by signing another extension to his contract.
By then at the peak of his powers, Baines finally dislodged Ashley Cole at left back in the England team and was selected as one of three Everton players for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It was to be a miserable tournament under Roy Hodgson, however, and Baines in particular came in for unwarranted criticism after being left badly exposed by a misguided midfield formation in the Group D opener against Italy which the Three Lions lost 2-1. Another defeat for England at the hands of Uruguay, coupled with Costa Rica's second group victory over the Italians meant that Hodgson and his side would return home having failed to progress to the group stage.
A certain lethargy following the World Cup was one of the many reasons put forth to explain Everton's poor performance in 2014-15, with Baines playing an increasingly less recognisable game that saw him getting forward down the wing on fewer and fewer occasions. Part of the problem was the absence of his left-wing partner, Pienaar who was injured for most of the season while Everton's general form, particularly in the Premier League was also a contributing factor.
Then there was the curious issue of him relinquishing penalty-taking duties despite his proven skills from 12 yards that season. Though he missed disappointingly from the spot at Old Trafford in September 2014, it was still a surprise when first Kevin Mirallas and then Ross Barkley assumed responsibilities for penalties against West Brom and Burnley respectively in the early part of 2015, both of them missing. Leighton then claimed that he had handed penalties to Romelu Lukaku so that the Belgian could increase his goal tally and gain confidence but some surmised that his confidence had been shaken by the miss against United despite it being his only failure from the spot in 15 attempts.
Perhaps a contributing problem to his form, that was only revealed as a sub-standard season neared its end, was that Baines had been suffering from a long-standing ankle problem and had often been playing through the pain barrier, having his leg strapped up following matches and needing injections to keep him available for selection. He underwent surgery to correct the problem in April 2015 and was expected to fit for the start of the following season.
He appeared to have recovered from the operation successfully when he returned in a couple of pre-season games in Scotland but he broke down in training, just two days before the start of the new 2015-16 Premier League campaign and was forced to undergo further surgery that kept him out until December when he was eased back into regular first-team action, having been deputised impressively by Brendan Galloway.
With the team visibly struggling again in the League by that point and floundering in the wrong half of the table for the second season running, Baines earned the ire of manager Roberto Martinez with comments he made in the media about Everton "lacking chemistry". Martinez rejected the assertion and told the media that the left-back had apologised but the disproportionate reaction seemed to reinforce the notion that the Catalan was losing the respect of a core of players.
That the Blues would only win two more games that season as the dreadful campaign petered out in increasingly worrying fashion meant that Martinez's dismissal after the penultimate game came as no shock, nor was it surprising to see Baines step up to the spot for the first time in 18 months in the final match of the season under stand-in boss David Unsworth to successfully convert a penalty against Norwich in a 3-0 win.
And you got the feeling that no-one welcomed the change in manager more than Leighton Baines, whose appreciative assessment of the new training regime in this Echo article belied scathing critique of the previous incumbent.
|Date of birth||11 December 1984|
|Joined||6 August, 2007|
|Joined from||Wigan Athletic|
|Signed by||David Moyes|
|Contract duration||5 + 4 years|
|Contract expires||June 2019|
Blackburn Rovers (H)
25 August, 2007
|Previous Clubs||Wigan Athletic|
|» Soccerbase Datafile
» Wikipedia Entry
|Season||Squad No.||League Apps (sub)||League Goals||Cup Apps (sub)||Cup Goals||Total Apps (sub)||Total Goals|
|2007-08||3||13 (9)||0||4 (3)||0||17 (12)||0|
|2008-09||3||26 (5)||1||8 (0)||0||34 (5)||1|
|2009-10||3||37 (0)||1||11 (0)||1||48 (0)||2|
|2010-11||3||38 (0)||5||6 (0)||2||44 (0)||7|
|2011-12||3||33 (0)||4||8 (1)||0||41 (1)||4|
|2012-13||3||38 (0)||5||6 (0)||2||44 (0)||7|
|2013-14||3||32 (0)||5||6 (0)||1||35 (0)||6|
|2014-15||3||31 (0)||2||6 (0)||1||37 (0)||3|
|2015-16||3||16 (2)||2||4 (1)||0||20 (3)||2|
|2016-17||3||28 (0)||2||1 (0)||0||29 (0)||2|
|Totals||292 (16)||27||57 (5)||7||349 (21)||34|
Note: Everton Career Stats on ToffeeWeb are updated after every game.
|2001-2007||Wigan Athletic||140 (5) + 14 (3)||4 + 0|