Everton Under 18s boss Paul Tait recently announced through the club website that former player Leighton Baines will now be working as his assistant manager. The 36-year-old had 30 international caps to go with 420 appearance in the royal blue shirt during his playing career, and will bring that vast experience to the Blues youngsters now.
While no time frame other than “short-term” has been given, he is effectively filling a permanent Blues position recently vacated by coach and former striker Phil Jevons. One would assume then that either Everton are on the lookout for a permanent assistant to Tait from outside the club or there is a possibility that short-term might become much longer for the Toffees legend Baines.
The transition from Professional Development coach, a role specially created for him, to assistant manager at Under 18 level is of course not an easy one. It’s a detailed focus on one set of young players rather than the wider role with the under 23s and those (for instance Anthony Gordon and Jarrad Branthwaite) who have become regular first team squad players. Most encouragingly from the words of Paul Tait is that it does begin to sound like Leighton now has the appetite to develop as a coach.
This can only be good news for the supporters who will be delighted and for the very lucky players of our academy. It will be interesting to see how this role develops and whether it encourages him to coach full-time.
In his playing days, Leighton Baines spent his entire career at left back in spite of the idea floated by Roberto Martinez that he could develop into the same kind of player as the German international Philipp Lahm. Lahm was also a former full back who later in his career played centre midfield extremely well displaying great loyalty to his club Bayern Munich. We all knew what Martinez meant and indeed Baines did play that role very briefly in a few games over Christmas 2014. His strength is not so much his versatility as a player however, it is his all round knowledge of the game at club and internationally. He played under five very different Everton managers and will have learned good and bad. It is that knowledge that could inspire the current Under 18s to success as a team but crucially as individuals learning their profession.
For the under 18s now, Baines the coach with his wealth of his experience simply demands that they listen and absorb what he says. One of the greatest players we have seen in Blue this millennium, Baines the coach can hopefully get his points across to the class of 2021 and especially develop the importance of full backs dovetailing with their wide midfield players.
As Baines the player, his nine year-long partnership with Steven Pienaar (lovingly known as the “Bainaar line” by Evertonians) is perhaps the best example of two wide players in blue playing together almost telepathically. That partnership was only broken by Pienaar’s year long break with Spurs in 2011 and initially when David Moyes preferred Joleon Lescott at left back and the later years when Martinez chose to use Kevin Mirallas as a more natural winger. You probably need to go back as far as the 1985 combination of Trevor Steven and Gary Stevens on the opposite flank to see anything similar for Everton. In Baines’ case there was never a spectacular fall from grace as a player, “consistency” could have been his middle name. Those “Bainaar” combination moves that graced Goodison for so long are surely something that could be taught to those willing to listen?
A favourite Baines memory of many supporters will be from deadline day August 2013 when David Moyes came calling for his services after he had just taken the reins at Old Trafford. It ended in tears but not for Evertonians. As part of his regular developmental role with the academy we’re sure Baines has reminded players that the grass is not always greener and that loyalty and respect are qualities that will last a long time in the memory of supporters. Thierry Small, a recent left back like Baines for the Under 18s, if told that story, clearly did not listen. He showed neither of those 2 qualities and has effectively swapped Everton Under 23s for Southampton’s, nice move! As part of his coaching role Baines can therefore also lead by example not just technical advice.
Although you are unlikely to hear him bellowing, our young players would do well to listen to Baines the coach very carefully when he does speak! Blink or switch off and you might miss something, a little like the stunning long range shot Baines the player dispatched in one of his last games in December 2019 that left Leicester City’s keeper Kasper Schmeichel helpless. The quiet man with a passion for playing his guitar will be just as keen as Baines the coach to be in tune straight away.