Seamus Coleman says outgoing Everton idol Leighton Baines’ influence on football will endure in the shape of modern full-back play.
Left-back Baines confirmed his retirement on Sunday following 13 years at Goodison Park and Coleman has explained how his close friend will be missed at the Club both as a player and person.
The pair were teammates for more than a decade after right-back Coleman came to Everton in January 2009.
Baines played 420 matches for the Club and with his relentless but thoughtful offensive play had a meaningful hand in reinventing the role of a full-back.
The 35-year-old made his final appearance as a substitute against Bournemouth in Everton’s final Premier League game of the 2019/20 season.
“In my time at Everton, he is hands down one of, if not the best, players I’ve played with,” Coleman told evertonfc.com.
“As a footballer every day he was so professional, always in the gym and always the best player in training.
“Even until last week.
“That is testament to how he’s looked after himself throughout his career.
“You hear pundits and people talking about full-backs changing the game.
“Leighton Baines was one of the players who helped change the game for attacking full-backs 10 years ago.
“There was a five-year period, at least, when he was the best left-back in England and, possibly, in Europe.
“Under David Moyes [Baines’ manager for his first six years at Everton], you had your left-back winning games for you, which is incredible.
“He was an unbelievable talent, a natural talent with amazing ability.
“We will miss him massively.”
Baines joined from Wigan Athletic in summer 2007 and following one season on the periphery emerged as an integral figure for his team.
The defender’s influence on the field was progressively replicated off it and Carlo Ancelotti was keen to keep Baines on board for next term – the manager now switching his focus to trying to persuade the former England player to remain at the Club in a different capacity.
“He has a great way of being able to mix with all members of the squad,” continued Coleman, “they all really respect and admire him.
“If that is building a relationship with young players like Tom [Davies] and Mason [Holgate], or being there for me in the past six months, which was a busy time as captain with everything going on.
“He was a fan playing for the Club.
“He genuinely cares about the Club and wants it to do well.
“We have been so lucky to have him and he is going to be genuinely missed in the changing room.
“We’ve seen so many people come and go and every player had so much respect for him.
“He’s always been there to help them any way he can.
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ANCELOTTI ON BAINES' 'FANTASTIC CAREER' AND EVERTON'S 2020/21 AMBITIONS
“He was there to support Lucas [Digne, the left-back signed two years ago], and give any advice he needed.
“If he wasn’t in the team, he was still supporting and training hard.”
Baines bowed out in characteristically understated fashion, holding back his retirement announcement until the dust was settling on Everton’s clash with Bournemouth and steadfastly resisting the spotlight.
Coleman nevertheless insisted Baines’ sustained quality and application merited notable recognition.
“People will probably find it strange he would want to go out without any fans and to disappear into the sunset,” said Coleman.
“He genuinely didn’t want a fuss or anyone talking about how good or how important he was.
“He wanted to come in, do the job and get out the back door.
“He has talked to me in the past about going into Goodison for the last 15, 20 minutes of games with his mates [as a supporter].
“To go on and be such an important player, play so many games, keep himself fit, he must be so proud – and he should be.
“Leighton has never really been one to like the praise.
“Someone leaving the Club after 13 years and telling you, 'Don’t make a fuss', it is genuine, someone not in it for the limelight.
“He never has been.
“He just wants to be the best person he can be.”
Coleman admits he’d have formerly been hard pushed to envisage Baines crossing into a coaching assignment.
But the Everton captain, who played his 319th game for the Club at the weekend, has altered his view after observing Baines in his senior position.
“If you asked me six years ago [if Baines would become a coach] I would have said, 'Absolutely not',” added Coleman.
“But I sit beside him on the bus and am constantly chatting football and picking his brains.
“I think now it [Baines staying in the game] is a possibility, he would be very good helping younger players.
“He knows the game and knows players.
“That is something he could explore.
“I heard the manager saying they want him in involved in the Club.
“That will be important, as a coach or around the Club in a different way.
“You don’t want to lose people with so much experience and who genuinely care about the Club.
“I think he would be capable of quite a few different roles within a football club.”