But while the former Wigan Athletic man is a vital component and symbol of Roberto Martinez’s Everton (Let’s not forget he resisted the allure of Old Trafford) his presence is stalling the progress of a very bright young talent, who many see as a future Everton and England regular.
Luke Garbutt is a very talented prospect who is more than capable of playing in the Premier League. There are so many good aspects of his game, and if he wasn’t at Everton he would’ve probably seen a lot more action this season.
At 21, Garbutt is a player who should be out of the U21’s and on his way to becoming a first-team regular, and he has the talent to do just that. In Roberto Martinez, he has a manager who isn’t afraid to use his young guns on the big stage. Just ask Ross Barkley, John Stones and Romelu Lukaku.
But Baines’ presence and stature at Goodison has restricted Garbutt to just eight starts in his six years on Merseyside. The Europa League gave Garbutt a platform to impress and in his 5 appearances in the tournament he was able to show case his wicked left foot, pace and ability to read the game.
The former Leeds man could well be Everton’s next John Stones, another young starlet who slots seamlessly into the Everton first-team due to his great technical as well as defensive ability.
The reactions of Everton fans when they see Garbutt’s name in the starting line-up says a lot. There are very few, if any fans nervous about the prospect of a youngster filling the Leighton Baines shaped-hole in the back line, instead there is unanimous positivity and an appetite to see Garbutt burst down the line and whip in a sumptuous cross.
With Baines arguably Everton’s most important player over the last 5 years, the way fans have taken to the lack of action for Garbutt is a barometer of just how good he is, and it would be a fiasco for the Blues if they let the England youth international go.
Garbutt’s contract is up at the end of this season and Everton need to do everything in their power to make sure that they don’t lose one of their coveted assets. He won’t turn out to be another Dan Gosling, this kid is the real deal, and clubs are already lurking for his signature.
Could he be tried on the wing, in the same way that Seamus Coleman was integrated into the Everton side? The Irishman couldn’t dislodge David Moyes’ right-hand-man Phil Neville from the right-back slot when he was breaking into the first-team setup at Goodison Park. But due to Everton’s dearth of quality wingers, Coleman started a lot of games at right-midfield and quickly made the position his own, scoring 6 goals and setting up Tim Cahill in the Merseyside Derby during a stellar first campaign.
Look at Coleman now, an integral part of the Everton side, vice-captain for his country and his name regularly sung from the Goodison terraces.
Garbutt is in a similar situation now, although there are a few notable differences. His path to the starting line-up is blocked by one, or perhaps two players in Baines and Bryan Oviedo. And although Baines is seemingly one of Martinez’s ‘favourites’, like Neville was under Moyes, that’s not the only reason why he has the left-back slot on lockdown. At this moment in time, he is a better player than Garbutt by a substantial margin. Oviedo is an able deputy and a cult hero among the fans, but the Costa Rican’s injury problems have unfortunately raised questions over his reliability.
The selection of wingers at Martinez’s disposal aren’t jaw-dropping, but he still has the likes of Kevin Mirallas and now Aaron Lennon to call upon, although the futures of the aforementioned duo remain in the air.
Lennon’s crossing isn’t the sharpest, Garbutt is superior to him in that regard. But the loanee’s pace, directness, desire for the ball and application make him a better bet than his fellow Leeds graduate for one of the wide berths. If he stays, that is.
The future of Kevin Mirallas has long been a talking point for many Evertonians. Some love him, some want shut of him, some are ambivalent. His quality is undeniable but his consistency is more than questionable, the 27-year-old can be a world beater one week, but anonymous the next. The recent noises out of the Belgian indicate that he could stay on another season, and it’s hard to envisage Garbutt getting ahead of the former Olympiacos man.
Steven Pienaar could be someone Garbutt would have to contend with, but the South Africans injury record over the last 18 months gives the impression his career is sadly on the wane.
Aiden Mcgeady seems to have been cast aside by Roberto Martìnez. The Irishman is yet to find any sort of consistency in a royal blue shirt and is much-maligned within the Everton fanbase, while Chelsea loanee Christian Atsu has done little to warrant an extended stay on Merseyside.
Garbutt has the ability to play on the wing, his delivery from open play and corners make him a danger, while he also has the pace to trouble an opponent. But would the 21-year-old want to play second fiddle to the likes of Lennon and Mirallas, in a position that isn’t his best? The boy needs to play, just like any footballer, young or old.
There is also the option of Garbutt going out on loan, to a Premier League club. It would give Everton’s no. 27 much needed gametime, but it would also give Martinez and co. peace of mind that their young starlet is still part of the future at Goodison, while he flourishes elsewhere.
Seamus Coleman was loaned out to Blackpool in the latter half of the 2009/10 season after making a handful of appearances for Everton. The Irishman was 21 when he was sent to Bloomfield Road, the same age as Garbutt, and as recent history suggests he made a tangible impression. Blackpool were in the Championship at this stage (Coleman did help the Tangerines win promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs), but sending Garbutt out to a second-tier side would be detrimental and almost an insult to the talented defender.
There would be a number of top-flight clubs eager for a season of Garbutt’s services, below are some potential destinations where the starlet could temporarily ply his trade:
Swansea City – The core groundwork of Martinez’s reign in South Wales is still evident today, and like all of Martinez’s predecessors Garry Monk has embraced but tweaked the playing style of the Swans. Their football philosophy is essentially identical to that of Martinez and there are some high-quality individuals and plenty of pacy attackers in Monk’s squad.
In Neil Taylor, Swansea have a dependable, decent footballer. But if they are looking for a full-back with offensive energy, fearlessness and great delivery, Garbutt could be their man, and he would almost certainly benefit from the style of play Swansea produce.
Watford – The Hornets were promoted from the Championship in swashbuckling style, but if they are to have any chance of staying up, they will need to bring in quality. Garbutt could be a cheap but effective option of enhancing the squad at Vicarage Road, and Martinez would surely be happy to see his man under the tutelage of Slavisa Jokanovic and the attacking philosophy he implements.
Bournemouth – A chance to work with an excellent young coach and the prospect of plenty of gametime at Dean Court, Garbutt could really benefit from a stint on the South Coast. You’d expect the Cherries to be battling in the lower echelons of the Premier League table next season, so the experience of a real relegation battle could be a priceless experience for the former Cheltenham and Colchester loanee.
Aston Villa (if they stay up, that is) – Villa Park has a knack for temporarily taking full-backs and developing them into fully fledged Premier League stars. Just ask Ryan Bertrand and Kyle Walker, who both benefitted from a six-month stint in the Midlands. With Tim Sherwood they have a manager with great passion, hunger and a gung-ho philosophy and Garbutt could really flourish under the gilet-throwing but lovable coach.
Wherever Luke Garbutt is come the 2015/16 season, his future would undoubtedly be bright. Roberto Martinez is confident of extending the left-back’s stay on Merseyside but with his contract up in a matter of weeks, it’s far from guaranteed. With money seemingly a constant issue at Goodison Park, the prospect of losing a top young starlet could be a very costly mistake, both on and off the pitch.