ON the face of it, Leighton Baines finds himself confronted with yet another quandary.
By: Paul Joyce
He knows playing out of his skin against Manchester City today would help Everton maintain their faint Champions League hopes, while being aware a barnstorming team performance could reopen the door to Liverpool’s title aspirations.
Local rivalries count for much, as the left-back has been reminded on an almost daily basis this week, though, in reality, there is no choice to make.
“Loads of people have obviously mentioned that potential scenario but I guess when the game comes round we will want to win, pure and simple,” said Baines.
“You understand the fans’ side of the rivalry but you shouldn’t judge yourself on others’ success or failure. Liverpool not winning the league doesn’t make us any better.
“We are still in with a chance of making it into the Champions League, although we have to rely on a bit of luck and need to be perfect, but we are in with a chance which is important.”
It has been a season of moral dilemmas for the England international, though the current conundrum appears to have been easier to solve than the weighty puzzle which presented itself to him at the start of the season.
Interest from Manchester United set the tone for one of the transfer sagas of the summer which would wreck the bond between David Moyes and his former club long before relations deteriorated with his new one.
Bids were tabled and swiftly rejected by Everton chairman Bill Kenwright and, throughout it all, Baines turned up for training every day, worked hard and waited for a resolution.
His actions felt like a refreshing change to the grubby undercurrent that has seen the likes of Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, to name but two in recent seasons, force the issue in order for player power to prevail.
Yet speaking honestly and in depth for the first time about events, Baines feels uncomfortable being hailed as some sort of paragon of virtue.
“I guess you never know if you’re doing the right thing or not but, at the time, it’s not your decision as a player to make those calls,” he said.
“I wanted to be kept informed. It was a bit of a stressful time because you’re not sure what way it’s going to go. You just try to conduct yourself in the proper manner as much as you can.
“I had those conversations myself. I didn’t have someone in there for me feeding back. I spoke with the manager, I spoke with the chairman and we had private conversations.
“They kept me in the loop all along and I kind of… from this end you might get credit for turning someone down that you probably don’t deserve because you didn’t. I sat on the fence and saw how the thing played out.
“I don’t want to harp on about it and keep playing that tune of being humble. You just appreciate where you are.
“If I was playing for a foreign club I may have acted differently but there is a different level of respect I think.
“I could have said, ‘I’ll sign a new contract now and put it all to bed’ but it was just a case of letting the business side of it get conducted and knowing that you couldn’t lose really.
“The perspective was I could only win from this situation.”
Given the contrasting fortunes United and Everton have endured under new managers this season, Baines could be forgiven for thinking all’s well that ends well.
Yet he gleans no enjoyment from the torment Moyes endured, resulting in his sacking last week. “There are a lot of lads here who were long-serving under him and we all feel the same, we are a bit gutted for him,” said Baines.
“There are personal relationships there and you don’t want to see anyone there having a hard time. It’s hard to know what to say but we know from working with him that he is a top manager.
“He has to do what is right for him now whether that’s coming back straight away or having a little bit of time.”
Baines believes it is small margins as to why Everton have flourished under Martinez in their season of transition while United eventually found themselves engulfed by turmoil.
He pinpoints a home win over Chelsea in September, the first match after the transfer window had closed and his future was settled, as being pivotal to accepting the manager’s new possession-based philosophy.
“We started with a few draws and everyone was kind of sitting on the fenc – and then we beat Chelsea,” he said. “It was the tipping point.
“If you look back we nearly conceded a ridiculous goal trying to play out and, if that had gone in and you lose the game because of that, maybe people would have started to want what they had before.
“It’s a results-based business and, until you start getting results, you’re not going to buy into it like we have done now.
“United haven’t quite got going. If they had, then they would probably have been flying at one point.”
Yet with Europe now beckoning, maintaining progress will be key.
“We have our highest ever Premier League points in the new manager’s first season which is extremely positive going forward,” he added.
“We have a few players in on loan so the next step is to see where we finish, which competition in Europe we can make and what we can do about strengthening. I’m sure the manager is looking at that.”
The dilemmas keep coming.