Has the man on the street in Rio de Janeiro heard of Leighton Baines?
Brazilians love their teams, not football
It’s hard to say if this is down to Baines’ low profile, having never played in the Champions League or at a major international tournament, or if this is to be expected and English football merely has an inflated sense of self. After all, could the average English football fan name Gremio’s star player, or Italy’s second-choice left-back? Could the average English journalist?
If they could, it’s because our knowledge of the global game is growing thanks to wider television deals – but another reason we may recognise players from foreign climes is because of transfer rumours. However, it’s much rarer to see top English players linked to clubs abroad, simply because it’s so rare for a top English player to move abroad. So while there is an enjoyable novelty in the idea of an espresso-sipping AC Milan fan espousing the merits of Tom Cleverley, telling fellow fans he’s exactly what the Rossoneri need in midfield, it’s not something that happens often.
Baines has been mentioned in high places, though. Bayern Munich were tracking him three years ago but without any success, player-turned-club-suit Karl-Heinz Rummenigge saying, “Everyone at the club is convinced by him” (and not just that he exists) and then, less happily, “We can’t force him to join us – he would rather live in Liverpool than Munich, and that’s that.” Imagine what could have been had Baines had the same adventurous air off the pitch as he does charging down the left wing.
Get past Leighton Buzzard
So curious Bayern fans may have looked into Baines, though if they used Wikipedia they’d have to get past Leighton Buzzard first on the search engine. Other supporters? Not so much. “I can’t really imagine a more parochial player,” says one of our German correspondents, “and I can tell you that your average German football fan has not heard of him.” Another German writer told us: “I’ll be completely frank: who the heck is Leighton Baines?”
The Spanish media, always fond of a transfer rumour, is reticent. Sport featured videos of his two free-kicks against West Ham online, saying he’d taken Gareth Bale’s set-piece mantle in the Premier League, while Mundo Deportivo harshly called him “slow”. But fans seem to know who he is. A number of readers commented on Marca’s story ‘BAINES EXPLOSION’ to alternately call Baines “the best English left-back”, a player Real Madrid should sign to challenge Marcelo, or just discuss the merits or otherwise of Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar (hipsters). One person calls him ‘una copa de pino’ – a ‘whopper’ of a player. Leighton Baines: big in Spain.
He’s surprisingly well-known in the US of A (“Great hair”; “A great crosser”; “One of England’s best full-backs”; “Mediocre”) but otherwise, Kirkby’s finest seems to fly under the radar. That could make him the Three Lions’ secret weapon at the World Cup, instead of the well-known Ashley Cole.
Our final words come from Croatia. “There’s a line in Seinfeld when Kramer says, ‘Who’s this Joe Mayo everyone’s talking about? I’ve never heard of a Joe Mayo. Frankly, it sounds made up.’ I can easily imagine a fan in Croatia saying the same thing after hearing a couple of English guys discuss Leighton Baines.”
Made up? It looks like the stage is set for this apparently little-known left-back to stun the world in Brazil.