FORMER Latics star Leighton Baines has been tipped to make up for a disappointing Euro 2012 campaign – by going on to become one of the best left-backs in the world.
Baines remained on the bench throughout the competition as England came up short against Italy at the quarter-final stage.
Inevitably, there have been calls for some of the older guard to be phased out to make room for the new breed who will hopefully see the Three Lions through to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
England’s first-choice left-back, Ashley Cole, will be 33 by the time that tournament comes around, and could be vulnerable to the threat of the axe.
And Latics legend Barry Knowles – who took Baines to Wigan over a decade ago after he was released by Everton as a schoolboy – feels his protege would be the perfect long-term solution for his country.
“Cole’s well into his 30s now, and the time’s come for Bainesey to push on and challenge for his England place,” Knowles told the Evening Post.
“He’s a great defender, he loves to get forward, he’s got a quality left foot and he’s only going to get better playing with even better players.”
With speculation linking Baines with a £20million summer move to Manchester United, Knowles also feels the Everton man could easily become an Old Trafford superstar.
“It’s no surprise to see him being linked with United – he’s good enough to play for any team,” Knowles added.
“Patrice Evra is coming to the end of his career now, and the time is right for Bainesey to step up.
“He’s an England international, he’s got years of Premier League experience, and I firmly believe he is a Manchester United player in the making.”
Baines remains the only graduate of the Latics Academy set-up to have played for England.
But he could easily have been lost to the game had it not been for the intervention of Knowles.
“I could tell how good he was from the first time I saw him play as a teenager,” revealed Knowles, who played left-back for his home-town club with great distinction during the 1980s.
“It cost me, out of my own pocket, two pints of lager and three phone calls to get him to Wigan. They ended up making £6m so they didn’t do too badly out of it.”