In a season filled with inconsistency, there hasn't been much for Evertonians to bank on. Luckily for us, there has been an exception in the form of Leighton Baines.
The left-back quite simply oozes Everton. He is the epitome of everything I believe Evertonians stand for, and certainly fulfils the criteria we expect from those lucky enough to pull on the Royal Blue. I don't mean just being a "top pro" either, anybody can go to bed at 9pm every night and get up at 5am to do Yoga - just ask Phil Neville. Baines is much, much more than that.
He is indeed, by all accounts, a very good professional - something his teammates and manager have been first to vouch for. This aside, his form over the past 2 years or so has been nothing short of phenomenal. Lest we forget, he's played most of this season whilst carrying a troublesome ankle injury. Despite this, he has in a lot of people's opinion now moved ahead of the immovable Ashley Cole. Recent stats have shown that on an attacking level at least, Baines certainly leads the way. In fact, he has created the most goal-scoring opportunities for teammates than ANY other player in Europe's top 5 leagues. His delivery is exquisite, his link up play down the left with Steven Pienaar is still our primary source of attack and he still chips in with a stunning free-kick every now and then. For these reasons, I believe he is our most irreplaceable player - not just because of the relatively low £15-20 million fee being touted. But who else is out there to replace him? If indeed there are any, the list will be desperately short for full-backs of Baines' ability outside of the European giant clubs.
It's the little things as well, his modesty and keenness to avoid the modern day footballer image, make him a very likeable character. He's always first to applaud the fans, be it in the warm-up or when taking a corner and you get the feeling he is genuinely honoured to play for Everton. And that's what it's all about for me.
I can handle the idea of a lot of our players leaving after what has ultimately been another frustrating season, but Leighton Baines is certainly not one of them. One thing is for sure, if he does leave for pastures new and goes on to chase his dream of playing in the Champions League - you can guarantee he'll leave in the right manner. This alone, is more than can be said for most prima donnas of today's football world. Like all Evertonians, I don't take too kindly to our best players leaving, but I understand if he moves on this summer as he quite evidently deserves Champions League Football. It'd certainly be with a heavy heart to say goodbye to one of our own. Mike Taylor.
Follow Mike on twitter @mtaylor1878