What next for Leighton Baines?
Life catches up to all men at some point. Leighton Baines will have felt feeling Father Time’s fingers creeping over his shoulder this week.
Five years ago he was probably the best full-back in the Premier League, while remaining a key player for Everton. Manchester United were keen to make him a Red Devil as a result.
Sadly, change has been plentiful in the intervening years. United’s interest has long since faded, Baines is no longer at his peak and Everton have found a successor.
Lucas Digne’s arrival from Barcelona this week spells the end of Baines’ dominance of the left back spot at Goodison Park.
His absence last season and the need to play Cuco Martina showed the need for a long-term successor.
Digne is that man and his landing will solve a major issue from last year. For Baines, though, it spells trouble. Where does he go from here?
The easy answer is to accept his newfound status as the second choice. He may not be the primary option at left-back but that does not mean he does not have anything to offer Everton.
He is a player with experience aplenty, both the Premier League and Europe. He is also an athlete who has been nothing short of a model professional during his entire career, particularly with The Toffees.
Any manager worth his salt knows it is important to have that type of player in his squad. Even more so at a club like Everton, whose books are filled with youngsters who can need the kind of guidance that Baines can offer.
Marco Silva is likely to know that keeping him around will prove a wise decision in the long run.
A positional change could extend his career on Merseyside. There are two new roles that he would be perfect for.
There is a long list of full-backs who have converted to centre-backs and carried on their careers. Given Everton’s dearth of quality in the centre of defence, Baines would be an asset there at this moment in time.
Becoming a defensive midfielder is another option. This was an idea proposed by former Blues boss Roberto Martinez. The pair even went to Bayern Munich to see watch how Phillip Lahm had transitioned into a defensive midfielder under Pep Guardiola.
Baines still has enough mobility to be useful in the middle of the park. He also has a passing range that most current defensive midfielders could only dream of. Couple those with his defensive nous and tenaciousness and he could make the perfect option for Marco Silva in the position.
There are plenty of Evertonians who would prefer to see him playing there than Morgan Schneiderlin.
Leaving Baines as a back up would be a serious waste of his talent, though. He may be advancing in age and not quite capable of keeping up with the pace that is required of the modern left back but he still has plenty to offer.
That is overlooking the value of having Baines as a backup. Everton can attest to how things can go when you do not have a quality back up in your squad. Martina’s performances last season attest to that.
Of course, both of those options presume that Baines will remain at Everton beyond this window.
With a replacement now incoming the boyhood Evertonian may see this as the perfect time to seek out pastures new.
He may be 33 but that does not mean his time as a professional footballer is over. He would still be the first choice at over half the teams in the Premier League. All the Championship high-fliers would snap him up.
So too would most teams in MLS, where Baines would represent an excellent capture for several sides. Despite his advancing years, the veteran has plenty of positive attributes and is still fit enough to play for years to come. If Ashley Cole can do it, so can he.
Indeed, transfer rumours from earlier this summer suggest the idea is one that has floated across the pond.
Whatever happens, Digne’s arrival does not mark the end of the road for Leighton Baines’ football career.
If he is to be a backup, he will still be a valuable asset to Everton. If he chooses to change position, he will be a valuable asset to Everton.
And if he decides to leave and seek out a new challenge, he will be an asset to whatever club decides to sign him. There are likely to be plenty who would want to.
A new man may be in at Goodison Park but Baines still has plenty of options in front of him. It will make for interesting viewing what he and Everton decide to do.