Leighton Baines has done “exceptionally well” since returning to Everton’s team following an injury layoff and remains a key figure at Goodison Park, says former England international defender Danny Mills.
Left-back Baines was sidelined by a calf problem for more than three months before making his comeback in March’s 2-0 home victory over Brighton & Hove Albion.
The 33-year-old has helped the Blues record two clean sheets in their past four matches and collect seven points in that period.
Baines’ run and cross set up Cenk Tosun to score against Brighton and the defender was one of the driving forces behind Everton’s late surge in pursuit of a winning strike in last weekend’s Merseyside derby.
And Mills, who was capped 19 times by his country and played all five of the Three Lions games at the 2002 World Cup, is convinced Baines still has “a lot to offer” the Blues – on and off the field.
“It is tough when you get injured later in your career,” Mills told evertontv. ”I had no injuries until I got to 27 then I broke my leg twice. You miss a lot of games and it is difficult to recover.
"Leighton has done exceptionally well to get fit and come back so strongly.
“The senior players are vital at any club. With defenders, especially, it is not always about running and being the fittest and fastest. It is about experience, mentality, putting yourself in the right position and using all those things you have learned.
“Look at John Terry, in his mid-30s for Chelsea he was Premier League defender of the year and one of the best players in the division after he had been written off two or three years earlier.
“It is about experience and how to manage situations and Leighton Baines still has a lot to offer Everton.”
Baines is two games shy of reaching 400 for Everton and could potentially hit that landmark in the meeting with Newcastle United at Goodison on 16 April.
He played his 400th Premier League match last month against Manchester City – having made his top-flight debut for former club Wigan Athletic in 2005 – and has scored 32 goals in the competition.
Baines acknowledged that milestones continue to “creep up” on him as he nears the end of his 11th campaign with the Blues.
But Mills believes the wealth of experience accumulated by the Everton player, who featured for England at the World Cup four years ago and has represented the Three Lions on 30 occasions, will be an invaluable resource for the Club’s host of young players graduating onto the first-team scene.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Tom Davies, Mason Holgate and Jonjoe Kenny, all 21 or under, have been key members of Everton’s first-team squad this term, that quartet making a combined total of 94 Premier League appearances in 2017/18.
“Even when Leighton is not in the team, he has so much to offer to all those players coming through,” said Mills.
“The core values of this football club have remained true over the years and a big part of that is having players who know and understand what the Club is about –
and can help those young players improve.
“You see it with the ex-players on the staff as well, guys like Duncan Ferguson who is working with Sam Allardyce.
“Fans love one of their own, there is that connection, especially here on Merseyside. Supporters love to get behind the homegrown kid and you have several at Everton.
“And players like Leighton can help them with that transition from academy to first-team football, when it's all about winning.”