“It’s worked really well so far. It’s coincided with us getting three wins from four, so he must be doing something right!” said Everton Under-18s manager Paul Tait of Leighton Baines who is working as his assistant on a short-term basis.
That’s the thing with the former Blues left-back, he always did get it right.
Whether it was consistently putting in top performances on the pitch or his ability to find an attacking team-mate with ease, Baines made the correct call.
A consummate professional, the decisions he made throughout his career meant he was able to enjoy a storied 13-season spell at Goodison Park before hanging up his boots in the summer of 2020.
And that’s why now, he is the perfect mentor for Everton’s youngsters.
Shortly after retiring having played 420 games for the Toffees, the Blues icon was appointed professional development coach, a role which sees him helping each transition phase for the club’s new pros.
Now, following the departure of Phil Jevons to Sunderland, Baines has again stepped in to help the club, working as Tait’s number two on the sidelines.
What a buzz it must be for Everton’s young charges to work with such a legendary yet humble figure.
During his time with the Toffees as a player, Baines’ laid-back demeanour always made him stand out and he was a cool customer, especially from the penalty spot, hammering the ball home 25 times, more than any other player.
Now, having taken it all on his stride, he can pass his knowledge and experiences on.
“Leighton knows what it’s like to play in the Premier League every week,” Tait told Everton’s official website.
“He’s got that wealth of experience and he knows how players should prepare on the training ground.
“In terms of his coaching, what he brings is that detail – certainly for the roles of the full-backs and the whole backline defensively.
“He brings that depth of real top-class knowledge and he’s coming out of his shell in terms of his coaching, because it’s not easy when you stop playing and you first go into it. You can ask anyone, it’s quite a big transition. He’s in that stage where he’s going from top-class player to coach.
“For Leighton, he’s looking at getting as much coaching in as he can and as many hours with the players on the grass as he can – and he’s certainly getting that now with us.”
Baines has huge wisdom to pass on to the young men hoping to make the grade as a professional but, in terms of their long-term development, it could be said his passions away from the pitch will be just as key.
Sadly, not every player in the Under-18 set-up will go onto play for Rafa Benitez’s first-team but throughout his time as a Premier League footballer, Baines made sure he had interests away from the beautiful game.
Baines is a big music fan, once writing a blog of his favourite tunes for Everton back in 2012 – Tame Impala, Jack White and Richard Hawley got big mentions – while he was also a keen photographer, even producing a book of images he handed out to other members of the squad.
“I started playing around with some film cameras about three years ago and then, when we were moving around form A to B on the bus or train, I was just taking pictures.
“Over time I had all these pictures that started to mean something more so I actually put a book together just for the players over the summer.
“Stuff around the training ground, games, getting there on the bus, when we arrive…
“It’s nice giving the lads a book when we all come back from the off-season. They all seemed to enjoy it and quite a lot of them wanted to show their parents and families.”
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Football, especially today’s game, can be all-consuming but Baines played the role of a professional expertly, ensuring he found the time to switch off from the rigours of competing in the top-flight.
The mental aspect of the game is just as crucial as the physical element and the former number three took time to focus on other pursuits while being completely committed to the Everton cause.
As well, despite his older years, Baines, a popular member of the squad, was able to get on with players at the same stage, like Phil Jagielka, as well as those just coming through, like Tom Davies.
“When it comes to young players, it’s not something we really think about, the mentoring thing,” Baines told volume three of the St Domingo shirtzine in 2019.
“But Tom [Davies] is very cool, I love Tom and his personality. He’s his own man. He’s strong-minded as well, much more comfortable within himself than I was at that age.
“Tom doesn’t need me to progress. It’s like all of the young lads coming through, you have to let it happen naturally. There will be times when you will give young players a little boost whether it’s on the training ground or the pitch.”
Playing for Everton hoping to become the next Baines while still growing up, it’s important the youngsters are fully aware of what is to come in the professional game and that playing is not the be all and end all.
“It’s a funny one, I came through with the opposite. It was a lot of tough love,” he added.
“It’s not just changed on the pitch for the players. Off it, there are different pressures with social media and being in the public spotlight more.
“But at the same time, I think there’s more scope to explore other things away from the game, while still being dedicated to your profession.”
He’s been there and done it the correct way it seems, for the club and for himself.
Leighton Baines the player is a brilliant role model but perhaps Leighton Baines the man is the perfect mentor for Everton’s youngsters.
If they can get it right like the former Blues defender did, they won’t go wrong in their football careers.
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