After months of speculation linking Leighton Baines with a move away from Goodison Park, the 29-year-old has committed his future to Everton by penning a new four-year contract with the club.
Toffees manager Roberto Martinez broke the news in his media conference ahead of Tuesday’s Merseyside derby with Liverpool.
“I can give you good news, Leighton Baines has signed a new contract for the next four years,” Martinez said with an ear-to-ear smile.
“To be able to secure Leighton’s best years at Everton means a lot, especially in this January (transfer) window where we are talking about having a strong squad going into the second half of the season.”
“We are all excited that Leighton will be able to have a long-term future with the club and we are all looking forward to the second half of the season having his experience.”
Baines is currently in his 7th season with Everton, having been bought from Wigan Athletic for £6.6M in the summer of 2007. It was a hefty sum of money for a left-back who many Premier League aficionados didn’t consider to be a top player.
But then-manager David Moyes saw a potential in the 21-year-old Baines, so much so that the Scot convinced his tight-fisted chairman, Bill Kenwright, to dole out the quid. The investment has paid off ten-fold as Baines’ sterling performances have grown more and more consistent with each passing season.
Not even a consideration in the England fold until four years ago, the energetic Baines has now arguably surpassed Ashley Cole as the first-choice left-back heading into this summer’s World Cup.
“It is such a specialized position it is a great boost internally but I know fans will be delighted because Leighton is more than a footballer at the club,” Martinez noted. But for the Spanish manager, it’s Baines’ influence beyond the pitch that makes him such a key player to keep at the club.
“You look how important he is with the daily standards, the influence he has with the younger players. I am just looking what Leighton can do in the next four years in the dressing room and it is going to be as good as it gets.”
So just how highly does Martinez think of Baines?
“He has been performing as one the best left-backs in European football and the best is yet to come. To have Leighton with the focus and tranquility to be at Everton for the long term is an incredible boost.”
While contracts in European football never guarantee a player remaining at a club, locking Baines into a four year deal will, for the meantime, put the clamps on approaches from Manchester United.
The Red Devils’ interest in bringing Baines to Old Trafford has been well publicized for years now and recently came to a head last summer under Moyes’ newly assumed tenure. With the 32-year-old Patrice Evra turning out vanilla performances, Baines was the replacement Moyes had in mind.
In mid-August, the Scot made £28M joint bid for Baines and Marouane Fellaini, which Everton promptly laughed off before subsequently selling the latter to United for £27.5M. Rumors of a second move for Baines raged on this fall but went cold a few weeks back the with rumor of Baines’ intent to re-sign.
With Baines’ new deal secured United will now turn their sites to 18-year-old Southampton left-back Luke Shaw, currently valued around £30M. Chelsea are also rumored to be interested in the Saints’ starlet as a replacement for the aging Cole.
If Everton are to achieve their pre-season goal of qualifying for Europe, it goes without saying that Baines will be a key component to getting there. His importance, however, skyrocketed over the weekend when his back-up, Costa Rican Bryan Oviedo, suffered a double leg fracture during Everton’s 4-0 victory at Stevenage in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Baines and Everton take on rivals Liverpool Tuesday at 2:00pm ET on NBCSN.