LEIGHTON BAINES might smile at talk of Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger’s praise for Everton, but he still wishes neither men had opened their mouths.
The Toffees left-back reflects the ethos of his team in his personal manner; preferring to get on with things quietly and competently away from the limelight.
And although being touted as potential top four candidates this season by the Manchester United and Arsenal bosses is praise indeed, Baines knows that Everton must first do the business on the pitch, starting at home against Wolves tomorrow, to justify the glut of positive predictions showered on them all summer.
“In a way we wish they hadn’t said anything,” he says.
“We prefer to fly under the radar and go about our business quietly. Their comments made headlines and it makes results like the weekend at Ewood Park even worse.
“When people with the calibre of them say it, it makes others look and believe.”
Not that the 25-year-old believes Everton can’t cope with expectations, he simply knows how futile the habit of performing against the big sides and underwhelming against mid-table outfits which developed last season can be.
“If you picked two managers from the league at the moment, they’re the two everyone respects so it’s a real positive,” he says.
“For them to be talking about us is big. It’s a compliment, but it means nothing if we don’t produce. Yes they have seen our potential to do something last season, but we need to get back to do it.
“There’s an international break coming up, so the aim for us has got to be to go into that with points on the board. That’s our short term aim.”
Baines was speaking after an Everton foundation event which was part of the club’s Premier League into Work training course.
The Kirkby-born defender spent an hour chatting with local people seeking jobs who had signed-up for extra confidence training, and employment help.
During an informal Q and A, one course member asks Baines where he thinks the Blues can finish, and once again he replies with a European place as a bare minimum.
It is an aim, he feels, that is boosted by Everton’s ability to be a Premier League switch hitter – a boxer who can confuse opponents by switching styles. Baines believes this team’s mixture of brains and brawn is a winning combination.
“We feel we’re a bit different from a lot of teams because we can do the physical part; that’s been what Everton has done over recent years, we can match anyone for that, but we can also play football now like we proved against the top sides,” he says.
“That’s why a lot of them struggled against us last season, because we’re not one dimensional. We weren’t a team who just knocked it up and relied on being physical.
“They didn’t know how to play against us because sometimes we’d do it tough and other times we’d play. That gave us the extra edge, a dimension some other teams didn’t have and it kept them guessing.”
Yet Baines knows that the opening day defeat by Rovers was an example of when his team-mates did not show their two sides enough.
“We are beyond the days of just mixing it up, but we’ve still got to be prepared to do it,” he says.
“To match the effort and enthusiasm some of the other teams will come and show, then add our football can really be the difference again.”
Ultimately, the England left-back knows that a performance against Wolves as underwhelming as last weekend could see players being dropped by a manager with an abundance of options.
“It’s a good problem to have too many players,” he says. “The manager might have to leave people out some weeks, he doesn’t want to. His selection process is much tougher.
“Last season the team picked itself at times but for us on the training ground now, maybe there’s an extra 10 or 15% that has to go in every day. The manager can bring you off and replace you if you’re not at the right level, and you can be replaced the following week.”