Baines: Whatever I Have Left - I Will Give It To Everton

by Paul McNamara

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Leighton Baines is talking about how much longer he can play for Everton.

He’s been doing it for 10 years now; ever since a summer spent anxiously waiting to tie up his move from Wigan.

The 32-year-old left-back is unconcerned by the fact he will be entering the latter phase of his career when his current Blues contract ends in 2019 – “it comes to everyone,” he says matter-of-factly.

He reserves his energy for things he can control, and shuts out the rest. Why change a winning formula, after all?

When Baines played in the Blues’ Europa League home tie with MFK Ruzomberok in July, he became the full-back to have made the most appearances in Everton’s 139-year history, surpassing Tommy Wright’s total of 375.

On Saturday, when Everton return from the international break with a match against Tottenham, Baines will start his 300th Premier League match.

He was captain against Slovakian side Ruzomberok and celebrated toppling Wright’s record by scoring the game’s only goal.

“European nights at Goodison always have a slightly different feel,” says Baines. “It can be hard to explain. It is the same game and the same place – but it is different.

“And, hopefully, in this season’s competition we can have some really good nights, which will stay in people’s memories.”

Returning to his recent entry into the Everton annals, Baines draws on personal experience for context.

“While I am playing, I tend not to stop and dwell on any achievements for too long,” admits the defender, who grew up in Kirkby.

“But it depends where you are coming from. I was a kid on the street playing football, so in that respect, every day is a success.

“I watch my son play football on Buckley Hill and at Walton Hall Park. They are the places I grew up playing, the same fields, hundreds of kids with all their hopes and dreams. So, when you look at it that way, I was one of those kids… and I ended up here.

“If you take a moment to look at it like that, it is pretty special.”

When Baines was told that Wigan would sanction his departure in 2007, he was set on joining Everton.

Nothing worth having comes easy, goes the adage. And Baines is living confirmation of its veracity.

“It took a while and got done late in the window,” says Baines. “Before the end of that season, I knew I would be given the chance to find somewhere else.

“I spoke with the manager at Wigan and told him this was where I wanted to come.

“I started trying to make it happen. In an ideal world, you would like to know where you are going – it is your future.

“It was all up in the air, so you try to be patient, but you are young and want things to get done.

“Other clubs were interested. I wasn’t that keen – but I had to start exploring those possibilities.

“I met and spoke to a couple of people and, at that point, could have signed for somebody else. But I decided to take the chance and wait a little bit longer.

“And, luckily, it got done in the end.”

Baines is initially forthright when asked if he could have imagined he would stay with Everton for so long. His answer says a lot about the player’s understated, yet determined character.

“I could, because I knew I would be happy here,” he says, before pausing momentarily, then inserting a telling rider. “Yes and no, I suppose.

“Everton is a big club, so there was always the possibility they would try to replace me. That has always pushed me on.

“It was always in my mind, especially early on here.

“It felt like I wasn’t going to establish myself. I kept working and pushing away, but there was a sense I wasn’t really going to be given a lengthy run in the team.”

Baines regrets delaying surgery on an ankle injury he sustained during his first campaign with the Club.

“It was a tough season, which didn’t quite get going,” he says.

“I took a bad tackle in a game down in Derby, which put me out for a few months.

“I couldn’t really use my left foot, even after I came back. I struggled through to the end of the season and ended up having surgery on my ankle.

“I probably should have just got it done straight away.”

It is relevant that Baines can remember where he was struck down; a sure sign of the injury’s significance.

“I don’t remember many games,” he says, when conversation switches to his Everton debut – a Premier League draw with Blackburn on 25 August, 2007.

“But I do remember that one. I had played at Goodison a couple of times – but it was a lot different wearing the colours, and something I won’t forget.”

Fit again in time for the 2008-09 season – his second with the Club – Baines set about making the Blues left-back spot his own personal fiefdom.

Nevertheless, the 30-cap England international admits that his remarkable consistency and longevity is rooted in a heathy fear of being overthrown.

“Your habits don’t change,” says Baines. “If your standards slip, a club like this will bring in someone else.

“It is how you are within the group, how you conduct yourself and the work you do on the training ground. Being able to look at yourself in the mirror every day.

“If I turn up on matchday and don’t play well, or don’t feel great physically, I know it’s not because of anything I’ve not done properly during the week.

"You still keep trying to push yourself.”

But for how much longer can he sustain the effort?

“I guess you just pay attention to your body and how you are feeling,” says Baines. “Ultimately, those decisions are made by other people.

“They will probably let you know when you are not required. You keep giving yourself the best chance, look after yourself… and just relax about it.

“It’s only nature, people are going to get older and it comes to everyone. You have to enjoy it while you can.”

When he tries to pick a highlight from his decade with the Club, Baines presses his internal rewind button. His near-400 matches whizz past in a blur, until he arrives back at the moment he treasures above all others.

“I always find it hard to pinpoint one,” says Baines. “But a special time and memory for me, was the day I came here.

“The other day, we were looking through some old family pictures, and there was one of me signing. Whatever else happened after that…it was a really big moment.”

Still only 32 and unquestionably one of England’s pre-eminent left-backs, Baines has not played for the Three Lions in the past two-and-a-half years.

It could be a delicate subject, then, especially with a World Cup in Russia next summer.

There is not a trace of resentment, though, as Baines considers his place in the national team’s pecking order.

Rather, as the topic is aired, he swoops on it, seizing his chance to outline what really matters to him.

“There are some top players in my position and they have been doing well,” says Baines.

“Honestly, I am happy with the way things are set up now – and that I can give everything to this football club.

“Whatever is left in me to give, I am more than happy to give it to Everton.”

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