Leighton Baines: Lack Of Ambition Or Just Happy?

It seems Leighton Baines has at some point made the decision that he'd quite like to be left-back for Everton. Do we read that as a lack of ambition or massive success?

Last Updated: 30/01/14 at 09:12 Post Comment

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It's always slightly disconcerting when something that seems inevitable fails to happen. When the nailed on falls off. When the dead cert springs jauntily back to life and ambles off into the distance, whistling. When the cast-iron guarantee turns out, on closer inspection, to be mostly rust. When...well, you get the idea.

So when a gleeful Roberto Martinez announced to the world that Everton's Leighton Baines would continue to be Everton's Leighton Baines, having just signed a new four-year contract, it came as something of a surprise. He was definitely going to Manchester United. Not because they needed him (though Patrice Evra is getting on a bit, and Alexander B├╝ttner is ├╝seless), and not because he's unarguably brilliant (though he is very good). Just because that was how things were going to be. David Moyes had a big scary job to do, and so he was going to take as many of his best friends and most trusted lieutenants with him as possible, because big scary jobs are easier to get the hang of when there are a couple of friendly faces knocking about.

Kudos goes to Everton, of course, who over the summer managed to stand firm in the face of Edward Woodward's Unsettling Grin, Edward's Woodward's Alluring Gyrations, and Edward Woodward's Giant Wodges of Money. As for Baines himself, well, such loyalty in the face of those same Giant Wodges should be admirable. It should be laudable. In your face, modern football! But when it comes to Baines, there's always a nagging and persistent criticism: that the one over-arching determinant factor in the arc of his career has been a lack of ambition.

That lack is the reason he failed to agitate for a move to Old Trafford over the summer, and that lack prompted him to agree to a new deal at Everton. That lack, too, explains his coolness in the face of reported interest from Bayern Munich several seasons ago. It may also explain that peculiar episode that saw him excluded from England's 2010 World Cup in favour of Stephen Warnock. In short, that lack is responsible for his complete and total failure to behave like a proper footballer throughout his career.

Ambition is to a footballer what liquid kerosene is to a space rocket: it pushes them up, up, up, higher and higher, as high as they can go, until they reach an orbit appropriate to their capacities. They then pootle around in this orbit for a bit, until it decays and they descend back to earth. The analogy falls apart a bit there, as the fiery business of plummeting through the atmosphere doesn't compare too well to the distinctly un-fiery non-plummet onto the Match of the Day couch, but no matter. Whatever the precise nature of that ambition - to earn as much money as possible, to win as many trophies as possible, to be the best you that you can possibly be - there has to be some motive force pushing them upward. Nobody ever got anywhere without a metaphor shooting out of their a*se.

Because becoming a top-level footballer is, well, quite difficult; staying one perhaps even more so. That it's preferable to most other kinds of work doesn't make it easy. And while most other spheres of human employment are horrendously skewed by nepotism, structural discrimination, and other factors that account for the over-promotion of the inadequate and the overlooking of the deserving, sport by its very nature is largely meritocratic. If a player isn't good enough, or if a player doesn't work hard enough, then somebody will eventually tell him so, and drop him, and sell him. It might take a couple of seasons. It might take a change of manager. But nobody stays over-promoted for ever.

All of which is to say that being Leighton Baines must have taken a not-inconsiderable amount of work. Hard work. Occasionally quite dull work. Even the most gratuitously naturally talented players can't coast their entire careers, and nobody's ever accused Baines of being one of those. He's not super-quick, he's not super-strong, and his left foot is educated in the sense that it's been put through lessons for years.

This, in turn, suggests that allegations of a lack of ambition are wide of the mark: at the very least, Baines has at some point made the decision that he'd quite like to be left-back for Everton, which is a ludicrous ambitious for almost the entire planet. Money; status; even trophies, Moyes' current struggles notwithstanding: all of these are probably more likely at United than Everton. But his decision not to pursue them doesn't establish that he doesn't want to be anything. It simply establishes that he doesn't want to be anything else. That, once upon a time, used to be called happiness. And that, once upon a time, used to be the highest ambition of the lot; higher even than those Giant Wodges.

Andi Thomas - you can follow him on Twitter, you know, and you can read more of his work at SBNation

Just one of those unambitious people, never been further than Wigan. Big mistake if Everton keep him, he's 29 so odds are his performance and value are on a one way slide. They should be looking to cash in on Moyes desperation; with the money from Fellaini and Jelavic that's 50 million. Enough to sign some real quality without even increasing the wage budget from last year. And yes, he really was a Liverpool fan.
- meanonsunday

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