LEIGHTON BAINES has been labelled an “Everton icon” by new Blues boss Roberto Martinez – in the clearest indication yet that the Goodison club will fight tooth and nail to keep their Player of the Year out of the clutches of Manchester United.
Former Goodison boss David Moyes made a £12m bid for the England international last week – instantly rejected by the Blues.
He is expected to return with an improved offer, but Martinez has given a glowing endorsement of Baines’ qualities and says he can’t wait to start working with him.
“I think Leighton is more than a player, he is an icon,” said Martinez who has been at Finch Farm all week since returning from contractual obligations at the Confederations Cup in Brazil at the weekend.
“He represents a lot about our football club and I am really, really excited about Leighton.
“This is a big season for him and for us as a club. When you are the left-back of this football club, and the level that he has been reaching over the last few years consistently, it shows me that he is the best left-back in the country. I can’t wait to start working with him.”
Baines himself has been unperturbed by the speculation over his future.
He spent the weekend at the Glastonbury music festival where he posed for photos with singer friend Miles Kane and Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner.
Some of Everton’s senior squad return to pre-season training on Thursday, with players involved in end of season internationals given a few days longer.
Everton hope to have Martinez’s first signings in place by then – with the Blues closing on deals for Paraguayan defender Antolin Alcaraz and striker Arouna Kone.
One of the Blues’ longest serving players, 345-match Leon Osman, says he is looking forward to welcoming new team-mates and is relishing the extra competition for places.
“Every new manager likes to bring in some of his own players,” he said. “It will be beneficial for us to strengthen the team and make it better. I’m looking forward to seeing who he will bring in.”
Osman is also eagerly awaiting an opportunity to learn a little more about Martinez’s football philosophy.
“Of course I’m looking forward to seeing how he wants us to play,” he added. “I think the way we have developed as a team over the last few years and the way we have attacked, it made sense to bring the manager in here.
“The way he likes his teams to play and the way we have been going about it so far, it seems like a great match.
“I was very happy when we found out it was him. With so many clubs having new managers it will be interesting to see how the new season pans out. It will be interesting to see what new styles and systems maybe come into the those teams, and which sides gel first and come out the blocks quickest. I have met the new manager. He seems a really nice guy and from what I have seen he is already working as hard as he can to make this great club better.
“It’s just known that when a manager leaves he takes his backroom staff with him, so its not just one face that leaves its up to six or seven. On the other side of it, a new manager brings in new faces with him. There has been a summer of big changes at the club but I don’t think it will change what we are and we are made up of and the spirit that we have had here. We have had that over all these years and I don’t think that will change.”