Leighton Baines: A consummate professional with a wand of a left-foot draws the curtain on an extraordinary career

Legendary Everton left-back Leighton Baines has announced his retirement from professional football at the age of 35.

A consummate professional with a wand of a left-foot, Baines spent 13 seasons at Goodison Park – registering 39 goals and 67 assists in 420 appearances across all competitions.

Baines played an instrumental role in guiding Everton to the FA Cup final in 2008/09 and also featured 25 times for the Toffees in European competition.

The 35-year-old broke a multitude of records during his career – including becoming the first defender to reach 50 Premier League assists and Everton’s leading penalty scorer with 25 out of 28 successful spot-kicks.

Alongside his distinguished career in the Premier League, Baines also amassed 30 caps for England – scoring his solitary international goal in 5-0 win over Moldova in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers in September 2012.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – JULY 26: The big screen shows a thank you message for Leighton Baines of Everton after he announced his retirement after the Premier League match between Everton FC and AFC Bournemouth at Goodison Park on July 26, 2020 in Liverpool, England. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

His loyalty towards Everton was tested on numerous occasions, especially when Manchester United offered multiple bids for him during the 2013 summer transfer window but Baines swore his allegiance to the Blues.

The former England international grew up just 5 miles from Goodison Park in the Merseyside town of Kirkby. His father was a fervent Liverpool supporter but Baines insisted in an interview with the Guardian in 2011 that he now follows Everton.

“Even now my family is split. There has been no crossover to Everton from the Reds in my family since I joined the club,” Baines revealed.

He added: “The only one who has come across is my dad, who was a Red and now supports Everton because of me.

“I don’t know if he still slyly roots for them but he comes to every home game and a lot of the away’s and I’d say he definitely follows Everton now.”

His breakthrough into the professional game was far from plain sailing with two unsuccessful trials at Everton followed by rejection from Liverpool.

“I came home that day and thought that was it,” Baines recalled. “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.”

It was at Wigan Athletic that Baines stayed and after impressing in the academy, he was promoted into the first team by Paul Jewell ahead of the 2002/03 campaign.

Jewell presented Baines with his full debut in a 2-0 triumph over Oldham Athletic on December 14, 2002 just after three days after his 18th birthday. Baines played another full 90 minutes when Blackburn eliminated the Latics in the quarter-finals of the League Cup three days later and completed his maiden season with six appearances in all competitions.

Baines dislodged Scottish left-back Stephen McMillan from the starting line-up and became an indispensable member of the team. He made 41 appearances as Wigan earned promotion to the top-flight for the first time in their history by finishing behind champions Sunderland.

Wigan achieved an impressive 10th place finish in their inaugural Premier League campaign and also reached the 2006 League Cup final, which they lost 4-0 to Man United at the Millennium Stadium.

Wigan Athletic’s Leighton Baines (right) celebrates scoring his sides second goal of the game with teammate Denny Landzaat (Photo by Nigel Roddis – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

His attacking qualities came to the fore during the 2006/07 campaign with three goals and numerous Premier League clubs showed an interest in him, including Man United and Everton.

The Latics survived relegation on goal difference via a dramatic final day victory over Sheffield United in May 2007. Baines was prepared to move to the next level in his career and ended a drawn out transfer saga by joining Everton on a five-year deal in August 2007.

David Moyes preferred a back-line of Tony Hibbert, Joseph Yobo, Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott during the 2007/08 season, which reduced Baines to just 22 Premier League appearances.

He played every minute as Everton reached the FA Cup final in 2008/09 as victories over Macclesfield Town, Liverpool, Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Man United respectively pitted them against Chelsea at Wembley.

Everton flew out of the traps when Louis Saha opened the scoring inside the opening minute, but Baines missed out on his only chance of silverware when goals from Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard completed a remarkable turnaround.

Baines was named Everton Players’ Player of the Season in 2010/11 and also featured in every game as Everton reached the Round of 32 in the UEFA Europa League. He won the award in back-to-back seasons after registering seven goals and 10 assists in all competitions across all competitions.

With Wayne Bridge retiring from international duty, Baines received his first international call-up in March 2009 and made his debut in a 3-1 win over Egypt. Stephen Warnock was selected in the 2010 World Cup squad ahead of Baines but his improving form at Everton would subsequently propel him to second-choice left-back behind Ashley Cole.

The 2011/12 and 2012/13 campaigns were perhaps the strongest of his career from an individual perspective. He was included in the PFA Team of the Year in back-to-back seasons and earned 16 caps for England in little under two years.

His two free-kicks in Everton’s 3-2 win over West Ham United was his standout performance during a glorious 2012/13 campaign and he was subject of mass interest during the 2013 summer transfer window.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – JUNE 19: Leighton Baines of England in action during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between Uruguay and England at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 19, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Moyes departed to Manchester United in 2013 but Baines remained one of the most important players under the tutelage of Roberto Martinez. The Spaniard guided Everton to Europa League qualification in his debut season and they reached the Round of 16, where they were knocked out by Ukrainian outfit Dynamo Kyiv.

A calf injury ruled him out of action for three months during the 2017/18 season and this rather set the tone for the twilight years of his career. Frenchman Lucas Digne arrived at Everton in the summer of 2018 and Baines understandably fell down the pecking order.

Despite playing a less prominent role in the first team, Baines remained the model professional under both Marco Silva and Carlo Ancelotti. It was an unfitting way for Baines to draw the curtain on his career with AFC Bournemouth condemning the Toffees to a 3-1 defeat in front of an empty Goodison Park.

“Every Evertonian must be grateful to him,” said Everton boss Ancelotti.

The Italian added: “He had a fantastic career here and was a fantastic example for all his team-mates.”

Ancelotti has also left the door open for a coaching role at the club, revealing: “We would like to keep him in the club because his knowledge is very important, but in the next days he has to make a decision.

“The club is open to have him stay with us. It’s his decision. We have time to think about this.”

In a touching tribute on Everton’s website Baines stated: “I am incredibly proud to have represented Everton for the past 13 years and my decision to retire has been a difficult one to make.

“After speaking to my family, I feel now is the right time to end my playing career but I do so with many great memories at this proud football club.

“As someone from the city, Everton means so much to me and it has been an honour to be part of the club for so long.”

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