WIGAN Athletic are hoping to boast a new claim tonight – a product of their youth system playing for England in a World Cup.
Leighton Baines is expected to be in Roy Hodgson’s starting XI as the Three Lions take on Italy in Brazil.
The left-back will become the first ever player from the Latics academy set-up to pull on an England jersey at a World Cup. Dave Whelan says it will be a proud moment for everyone at the club and believes Baines’ progress is a perfect incentive for the current crop of Latics youngsters.
“Leighton came through Wigan Athletic and I think everyone here really appreciated him and liked him,” said the Latics chairman.
“He is a very, very loyal lad. Everton was his great favourite when he was growing up and when he wanted to go I had to let him go really and he’s proved to be a really, really good buy for Everton and a good lad too.
“He has got now to a position that is unbelievable and fantastic but the lad always had ability and always looked like he could play at the highest level.
“Leighton is a lad who you would have in your club and team all the time, he gives you 100 per cent every time he goes on the training ground and pitch.
“He is a wonderful, wonderful example to all our youngsters.”
Paul Jewell gave Baines his professional debut back in October 2002, during a 3-1 League Cup victory over West Bromwich Albion, and the Liverpudlian went on to make more than 150 appearances in a Latics shirt.
He played a handful of games in the 2003 promotion campaign but it was the next two in which he made his name as he became an integral figure in the side that went up to the Premier League in 2005.
Also part of that team was Matt Jackson, who could tell Baines had talent from a very young age.
The former Latics captain, who is in Brazil working in the media, also believes there is much more to come from the 29-year-old.
“I played with him in his first season, he was a young land and inexperienced but he turned into a fantastic player and a great person and he deserves all the success that he’s had,” said Jackson, who is still at Wigan as Football Operations manager.
“He’s approaching his peak now, he’s playing fantastically well. He’s got many bright years ahead of him and I’m delighted he’s now got the opportunity to show that on the international stage.”
Jackson went from helping nurture a young Baines to seeing him become one of the best defenders in the Premier League.
“Paul Jewell always really liked him and we were all confident with him coming in with the ability he had,” he added.
“He had been released from Everton but didn’t let that affect him, he came in and worked really hard and just hung in there and improved and improved.
“Once he got into the first team, he was better than we expected him to be.
“It’s going to be great seeing him at a World Cup, I think he’ll do very well.”