Leighton Baines is a player that Manchester United have been pursuing for quite some time. A recent bid of £12 million has been rejected by Everton but there is speculation that a transfer fee of the region of £15-18 million might be enough to tempt the Merseyside club to sell the England international. Would Baines, though, be a good fit at United?
Perhaps that's a silly question to ask when one considers that the Englishman is currently the Premier League's best left-back. In a piece for ESPN, though, Michael Cox in January stated that while Baines has the ability to play for any side in England, Everton might be the perfect club for him. Here's some of his reasoning:
'Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Bayern Munich have also been linked in recent years. But while other Everton players have jumped at the chance to move higher up the league table, Baines might be best off staying put. Both in sporting and personal terms, Everton suits him perfectly.
First, there's the football angle: Baines is a naturally attacking left-back, having started, like many modern full-backs, as a left-winger. His game is about scampering forward and crossing the ball, because he possesses one of the finest left-footed deliveries in the modern game. He strikes the ball superbly and with great variety. He can caress the ball gently or drill it with power, he can curl the ball delicately or swerve it dramatically the opposite way. If you were forced to pick a single set-piece taker from the Premier League, for outswinging and inswinging corners, plus crossed free-kicks and direct attempts on goal, Baines would be your man.
This season, he's crossed the ball on 189 occasions in the Premier League, over 30 times more frequently than any other player. His energy and ability to dig out crosses from tight situations is a huge factor, but equally crucial is Everton's style of play. David Moyes likes his side to work the flanks, encouraging quick switches of play from one wing to the other. Everton's central midfielders are patient, methodical and reliable in possession, waiting for an opportunity to get Baines into a crossing position. A more direct side, or one based around a central attacking play, wouldn't allow him such a prominent role.'
In the past few years, Baines has been Everton's most important player. So much is designed to get him into positions to where he can create chances. So much is designed to cover for his aggressive positioning as well. It could be argued that the Toffees are a side that have been built around their left-back. Cox further discusses some of this dynamic in the ESPN piece:
'Then, there's Baines' relationship with team-mates; Everton are ideally structured for him to overlap. Steven Pienaar drifts inside, taking the opposition right-back into narrow positions, opening up space near the touchline. One of the holding midfielders moves across and covers Baines' position, while Sylvain Distin is left-footed, and happy to move out to the left-back zone if needed.'
If Baines were to arrive at Old Trafford, he undoubtedly would be an attacking asset while overlapping his left-winger. United's left-sided attackers -- Ashley Young, Ryan Giggs, Wilfried Zaha, Nani (if he stays), Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa, and Wayne Rooney (if he stays) -- all tend to take up narrow positions in the attacking third. In addition, he likely would be a marginal upgrade on 32-year-old Patrice Evra at left-back. If the Frenchman were to be sold due to the arrival of the Englishman, then United would likely still be paying similar wages as they have been for their first-choice left-back while the net transfers of the players would only set the club back by about £10 million or so (Baines' likely £15-18 million fee minus Evra's likely £5-10 transfer).
While Baines would arguably provide United an upgrade at left-back for not a considerable amount of resources, his possible arrival would not be ideal. For one, the club most certainly wouldn't base their attack around Baines -- despite David Moyes having been his manager at Goodison Park -- as the left-back would merely supplement the plethora of other talented attackers. Therefore, some of the concerns about the player -- his proneness to being caught out too high when the opposition counterattack and his unconvincing defending ability even when he is properly positioned -- wouldn't be excused at United as easily as it is at Everton. The Englishman would likely have to be a more balanced player at Old Trafford and there are no guarantees that he would be able to do that. In addition, Baines will be 29-years-old in December so it's possible that the incredible stamina he currently displays will decline sometime in the near future. It might not be long to where United could be in a similar position as to where they are now with Evra: in possession of a declining left-back that soon needs to be replaced. Moyes could do better by asking his new club to bring in a similarly attack-minded player, but a better balanced and younger one, like 25-year-old Fabio Coentrao.
If Moyes does convince his old club and player of this move to Old Trafford, then United supporters should be appreciative that they are getting the Premier League's best left-back and one who is in the form of his life. In addition, if Baines agrees to this move, it's likely because he's very hungry for the possible success that United could offer him -- specifically, genuine chances to win trophies, Champions League football, and a platform at one of Europe's top clubs in order to show England manager Roy Hodgson that he should be first-choice over Ashley Cole next summer in Brazil (if England qualify for the World Cup that is). However, there would be some concern on how Baines would fit in at United and he likely wouldn't be as influential as he currently is at Everton. Signing the left-back back wouldn't necessarily be a bad move, but it wouldn't be ideal either.