Despite the PFA's best efforts to distort what is considered the footballing year (player of the year award nominations in January? Plain bizarre), May is also the time where clubs, forums, fan-sites etc want to reward individuals and teams for their contributions on the field of play since mid-August. Everton's Annual End of Season Awards is on May 19th and takes place at the very venue ,that in hindsight, we should be calling home, the BT Convention Centre at Kings Dock ( but that's for another day). From what I can tell from basic market research on Twitter and Forum's, the main prize of the evening, Player of the Year, is a two Horse race between Leighton Baines and Sylvain Distin. I will tell you that due to his marked improvement this season, ever presence, stability and consistency in an uncharacteristically weak centre of Defence, I voted for Distin. However, today I pay homage to arguably our most consistent talent over the last two years, Kirkby's own Everton and England Left Back, Leighton Baines.
The first time I was really aware of little Leighton, I was watching England U21s v Germany U21s in a quaint London Pub with my Dad in October 2006, he scored an absolute wonder goal from outside of the area to give England a first-leg lead in their play off, for the European Championships. I remember his name consequently being linked with a Summer move from Wigan Athletic to Manchester United or Liverpool, I do recall Everton's name also being touted as possible suitors but thinking is he really any better than Gary Naysmith, Nuno Valente or Alessandro Pistone?
Seemingly en route to the Stadium of Light in July 2007, a late bid from Goodison Park turned his head , a second crack of the whip at the Club that released him as a Boy, albeit as a Striker, was too good an opportunity to turn down. Although already an established Premier League player having played in all but 1 league game the 05\06 season and all but 3 in the following year, he was still a relatively unknown quantity. His début season wasn't the dream start he would have hoped for, hampered by injury, and the outstanding form and versatility of, the since departed, Joleon Lescott at Left Back meant Baines' game time was limited to just 29 appearances across all competitions.
Rumours were rife that Sunderland were again interested in taking Baines, and they would repay the £6m we had paid the Pie Eaters. Moyes didn’t want to let him go, he had faith in him and wanted to him to show the Premiership what he could do. When Joseph Yobo got injured early in the 2008\09 campaign Lescott was pushed across to a preferred central role so a place on the left flank behind Steven Pienaar was Baines' to grab. Grab it indeed he did, the attacking and overlapping chemistry between him and his South African colleague was the closest thing to a David Beckham and Gary Neville type Football relationship I'd witnessed at Goodison. They knew where each other was all the time and covered for each other when one went forward, at times it was quite majestic to watch.
Baines' performances did not go unnoticed in other quarters, Fabio Capello was looking for cover for Ashley Cole after (in my opinion the highly overrated) Wayne Bridge's retirement from the International game. The place in the World Cup squad was contested between Everton's number 3 and Stephen Warnock of Aston Villa, pundits suggested that Baines would get the place on the plane to South Africa ahead of Warnock based on his ability at set pieces and forward thinking attacking style. A few choice words to a troublemaking reporter later and Baines's bags are off the flight and the rest, as they say, is history.
Missing out on the possibly his only chance of being part of Football's biggest competition must have been a bitter pill to swallow. Many would have or at least could have let it affect their confidence, being philosophical about it Baines realised this wasn't meant to be his time, so off he trotted happily on his holidays with a new 5 year contract with Everton. He came back this year just where he left off last season, and if anything has improved. He clearly idolises Cole's game and wishes to replicate arguably, currently the World's best Left Back, which can only be a good thing for Everton, and once again England.
The Premier Leagues 10th shortest player, Baines has worked on the defensive side of his game, which it has been suggested is the weakest link in his armoury, he now runs closer to his man and is happy to throw his body at the ball if required. He is the fans preferred choice at set pieces since Arteta's injury and his heroics at Tottenham and Chelsea. Going forward he has learnt from Pienaar to take a player on and not to be afraid to get into the box and have a shot, resulting in goals at Manchester City and Scunthorpe. Since Pienaar's departure to Tottenham, again he could have wilted as he hasn't found that relationship with Bilyaletdinov et al as of yet, but instead he has taken on the responsibility as main supplier, currently on 11 assists for the season which is 7 more than Ashley Cole and lies 5th in the overall assists chart for 2010\11, the only Defender in the top 20.
The EA Sports Index, which is officially accredited by the Premier League names Leighton Baines as the 7th best player this season, which is 15 places above the PFA Player of the Year, Gareth Bale, and they also have him listed as the 3rd best defender in England's top division behind Nemanja Vidic and John Terry, not bad for a lad that was told he wouldn't make it at Everton Football Club.
On June 12 I am running the 10k Mersey Tunnel Run in aid of Everton in the Community, a wonderful charity offering opportunities to all through Sport, if you would like to sponsor me and support this excellent organisation please click on the link below:
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Thanks for reading
Jacko - Follow me on Twitter @jackdoggydogg
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