Leighton Baines could be a Manchester United mistake
Is the highly-coveted Everton full-back really the needed at Old Trafford?
The general feeling shared by those in and around Goodison Park regarding Manchester United's persistent pursuit of the Merseyside club's two star performers, Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines, is one of disgruntlement.
Toffees manager Roberto Martinez labelled ex-Everton boss David Moyes' advances for the duo as "getting out of hand", as reported by the Independent, and accused United of distracting the players with their continued and much-publicised bids.
Only as recently as last week, United had offered Everton a total of £28million for the two players, with £16million representing their valuation of Fellaini, and the rest that of English international Baines.
Everton promptly rejected this bid, labelling it as "derisory and insulting", but it seems like United are desperate to sign the two players and reunite them with their former manager Moyes, and will be returning with an improved offer of £35million.
However, it seems very likely that this offer will be rejected as out of hand, much the same way as all of Moyes' advances for the players over the summer have been.
Everton have maintained their stance regarding the transfer statuses of their players, and will probably need an offer of gargantuan proportions from Ed Woodward and Moyes to even consider selling them at this late stage of the transfer window.
Now, from United's point of view, the interest in Fellaini is easily understood, the towering Belgian with the instantly recognisable afro is one of the best in the Premier League at breaking down attacks and retaining possession, and is also capable of using his hulking size and immense physicality to wreak havoc in opponents' penalty area.
Considering that United do not have a player who can offer a skill set similar to that of the Belgian, signing Fellaini is understandably a priority for Moyes.
However, when the topic switches to Leighton Baines, it is rather more difficult to justify United's willingness to pay up to £20million for the player.
First of all, it is worth taking the time to reiterate the general opinion of the footballing fraternity regarding the 28-year-old full-back.
Baines is considered to be one of the three best left-backs in the Premier League (alongside Patrice Evra and compatriot Ashley Cole), and his excellent performances over the last two or three years have seen him earn international recognition and innumerable plaudits.
Moyes has seen the ability of Baines first hand, having signed him from Wigan Athletic in 2007 and thrown him into first-team action almost immediately, and is understandably a fan of the player, but is his going to the extent of offering up to 20 million pounds for the player justifiable?
20 million pounds is a lot of money to offer for a defender, even in times like these, when Paris Saint-Germain saw fit to spend £32million on a teenager.
Alright, United have chalked out a considerable amount of money on defenders in the past, with Rio Ferdinand costing Sir Alex Ferguson north of 30 million pounds in 2002.
However, Ferdinand was 24, with a decade of football ahead of him, and United were woefully short of central defenders at the time.
Meanwhile, Baines is 28 years old, and although he should have three or four excellent years of football ahead of him before his performances begin to deteriorate due to age, signing him right now does not make much sense, especially since Moyes already has Patrice Evra (32), Alexander Buttner (24) and Fabio da Silva (23) to choose from.
While neither Buttner nor Fabio are ready to replace Evra in the starting XI on a regular basis just yet, signing Baines would significantly hamper their development by pushing them further down the pecking order.
As for Evra, despite his being on the wrong side of 30, he is still a formidable presence down the left flank, and seems to have gotten the 2013/14 season off to a good start on a personal front, having played a crucial role in United's 4-1 win over Swansea.
A quick comparison of the performances and statistics of Evra and Baines for the 2012/13 Premier League campaign leaves very little to choose from. Evra made 34 league appearances in the league, assisting five goals and scoring four, while Baines was the only outfield player to play every minute of the season, and chalked up 5 goals and 5 assists.
Defensively, there can be no question from a statistical point of view that the Frenchman stands head and shoulders above his opponent from across the English Channel; while both players averaged an impressive 2.4 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per appearance, Evra made 4.9 clearances to Baines' 2, showing that he is far more attuned to his defensive duties.
However, what tips the scales in Baines' favour is undoubtedly the creative threat he offers. 3.1 key passes to Evra's 0.7 a game, 0.9 shots per game to Evra's 0.6 and 2.8 crosses per game to Evra's 0.6 are very revealing statistics. In fact, in what is a staggering piece of trivia, Baines was the most creative player in the top five leagues in Europe, creating 102 clear goal-scoring chances for team-mates. It is no surprise that Moyes is so keen on adding him to the United squad.
While the statistics certainly weigh heavily in favour of Leighton Baines, the question still begs to be asked: were he to join United, would he be able to replicate his stellar performances from his Everton days?
It would be prudent to remember that Everton did not utilize any orthodox wingers, as Steven Pienaar, Leon Osman and Kevin Mirallas all liked to cut in from the flanks in the 4-2-3-1 system that Moyes employed, which allowed the likes of Seamus Coleman and Baines the creative license to roam up the pitch and deliver crosses from--and into--dangerous areas.
However, United's squad boasts four excellent wingers in Zaha, Young, Nani and Valencia, with Lingard, Januzaj and even Welbeck capable of playing as out-and-out wingers. In addition to this, United's traditional preference for a 4-4-2 system with orthodox wide players would possibly mean that Baines would be utilized as a more restricted full-back than a wing-back.
Casting aside all the speculation, the only important questions that one should consider are: would it be a prudent decision to drop Patrice Evra, the better defender, for Leighton Baines, the better attacker?
Would Baines' offensive output be worth £20million, or would that money be more productive if spent on a quality midfielder like Fellaini, Modric or Ozil, thus allowing Evra to reprise his role as left-back despite his relative offensive shortcomings?
Finally, with Evra, Buttner and Fabio available, is the left-back position really the weakest area of the United squad, and the one that needs the most immediate attention?
This writer is of the opinion that, in spite of Baines' obvious world class talents, he is not the need of the hour at Old Trafford.
If you agree, or disagree, please feel free to leave your comments below!
Also, for more statistics, please refer to Whoscored.com, like this article did.
Write for GiveMeSport! Sign-up to the GMS Writing Academy here: http://gms.to/130seMa
DISCLAIMER: This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.