LONDON (AFP) – New Everton manager Roberto Martinez illustrated his determination to fend off Manchester United's interest in left-back Leighton Baines on Wednesday by describing the England international as "an icon".
United manager David Moyes, Martinez's predecessor at Goodison Park, had an initial bid for Baines rebuffed last week when Everton rejected an offer of ??12 million ($18.3 million, 14.1 million euros) for his services.
The English champions are expected to return with an improved bid for the 28-year-old set-piece specialist, but Martinez says Baines is an important part of Everton's future.
"I think Leighton is more than a player; he is an icon," Martinez told local newspaper the Liverpool Echo.
"He represents a lot about our football club and I am really, really excited about Leighton. This is a big season for him and for us as a club.
"When you are the left-back of this football club, and the level that he has been reaching over the last few years consistently, it shows me that he is the best left-back in the country. I can't wait to start working with him."
Martinez was due to meet Everton's players for the first time on Wednesday as they returned for the start of pre-season training.