Money talks in football and, more often than not, the big deals involve attacking players. Clubs pay premium prices for creative types, be it centre forwards, wingers or midfield playmakers; these are the ones commanding the exorbitant fees.
Nevertheless, a notable exception remains in the form of Leighton Baines, with his creative skills delivered from the unheralded left back position. Attracting interest from his former boss David Moyes, the opening offer of £12 million divided opinion. Plenty sneered at the price; some thought it over the odds, Evertonians felt dismayed at the cheapness of it.
As highlighted in this recent analysis of the Everton left side, Baines is a formidable attacking force. Creating a chance every 29 minutes in 2012-13, the most creative Everton player leads the way in the Premier League and is the second-most creative in Europe. Only Mathieu Valbuena (119) outperformed Baines (116) on chances created in the top five European leagues.
Initially, upon his 2007 arrival from Wigan, Baines found himself sidelined due to injury and the form of Joleon Lescott. However, the England international improved considerably after establishing himself and, while strong in defence, his attacking attributes are an essential string in the Everton bow.
A major factor in the ever-evolving style of football seen at Goodison in recent years, Baines has shown annual progression in the creative department. This is evident from 34 chances in 08-09 to an Everton-high 116 in 12-13. Furthermore, aside from 10-11 when his partner-in-crime Steven Pienaar joined Spurs, the minutes per chance ratio has improved annually; the ratio cut by more than half (68.47) in the past five years (29.48).
Creatively, the above table outlines the incremental impact of Baines. Returning 9.19% of the Everton chances in 08-09, the percentage floated around the 18% mark for the next three years before reaching an imposing 24.02% last season.
Baines also created a club and league-high of 22 clear-cut chances in 12-13. This statistic takes on greater precedence as the next-best Everton players managed just eight. The left back also registered the most clear-cut chances by an Everton player in 10-11 and 11-12 (11 and 9 respectively).
Aside from creativity, other statistics confirm the value of Baines to Everton. Assured in possession, the full back posted the second most successful passes in each of the last two seasons; 1,025 increasing to 1,368 in 12-13.
Further testament to his attacking play, 2011-12 saw 73% of passes made in the opposing half (up to 74% last season). The attacking focal point, Baines had the most touches; the 11-12 total of 2,373 rose to 2,955 in the subsequent campaign.
Attempting the most crosses of any Everton player in 11-12 (242), this figure rose to another club and league-high last season (353). The number of attempted crosses dwarfed that of nearest challenger Kevin Mirallas (120). In addition, able to counter attack at pace, Baines attempted 60 dribbles in 12-13 – only Mirallas bettered that (84).
Moreover, known primarily for his attacking endeavours, Baines maintains a level of excellence in key defensive areas. The season before last witnessed 63 interceptions – second highest within the Everton squad – and Baines attempted (92) and completed the most tackles (73) in 12-13.
Merely scratching the surface, this analysis helps explain why £12 million is simply not enough for the most creative player in the Premier League. To provide a degree of context from 12-13, using Baines’ 116 chances as a yardstick, Patrice Evra fashioned 24 chances and Barcelona’s Jordi Alba delivered 19.
There is a view that Baines is overpriced at £12 million, but quality costs money. Manchester City recently spent £30 million on a 28-year old with no Premier League experience. Conversely, though nearer to 30 than 25, Baines remains injury-free and the former Wigan man has played every minute in two of the last three seasons.
Accounting for almost a quarter of the Everton chances in 12-13, Baines is somewhat indispensable – this is an overused term in football, yet it applies here – and his loss would represent a major body blow. With Roberto Martinez intent on keeping Baines, Everton must do everything in their power to ensure Baines begins next season in a royal blue shirt.
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