By Andy Hunter
Steven Pienaar has urged Everton to resist any move from Manchester United for Leighton Baines as he looks to rekindle his potent partnership with the England international at Goodison Park.
The South Africa international returned to Everton this week for £4.5m from Tottenham Hotspur, 18 months after moving in the opposite direction for £3m as he approached the end of his existing contract. He enjoyed a successful loan spell back on Merseyside in the second half of last season and was David Moyes’ priority for this summer. “I told the manager at the end of last season that I would come back if I had the opportunity and he promised me he would do whatever it takes to make it happen,” said the midfielder.
Pienaar is Everton’s second signing of the summer, following that of Steven Naismith on a free from Rangers, and he hopes Baines, who has been linked with United since the end of last season but is yet to be the subject of an official approach, is not among any departures required to balance the books.
“It’s not up to me. It’s up to the club to keep their best players but hopefully he’ll stay and so will the rest of the guys. It will be important for the team,” said Pienaar. “We had a good understanding in the last couple of seasons so, if he stays, it will just make everyone happy as well because we know how important he is to the entire team. He can score goals from set pieces and it’s not just me who benefits from playing alongside him. He’s a vital player for the club – everyone knows it from the manager to the supporters. Let’s hope and see if we can hold on to him.”
Pienaar and Baines have undergone a role reversal in the past two years. In 2010 Baines repeatedly asked Pienaar to ignore Tottenham’s overtures and sign a new contract with Everton; now Pienaar is appealing to the left-back to stay.
He added: “Leighton texted me a few weeks ago asking me what was happening with me but I didn’t ask him about his future. I know he’s had some great seasons at the club and, if he does get the opportunity to move, I think everyone will respect it. But for the club it’s important to keep your best players and we all want him to stay and he knows it. It’s not in our hands, though.”