The Everton left-back is desperate to reach Brazil and make the No3 position his own after missing out on the 2010 World Cup
Leighton Baines was on the dock road in Liverpool, his family with him in the car and listening in on the hands-free when the call came that dashed the dream. Fabio Capello kept it short and simple, confirming the full-back's services would not be required at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and expressing hope that they might work together again at some stage in the future. It was all over in 10 seconds. "I was on my way to Toys R Us to buy a trampoline for the kids at the time," said Baines. "So yes, it was strange."
The ensuing talk of bouncing back in style was inevitable. This week provides Baines with a second chance to reach the finals, with England's aspirations to qualify automatically for Brazil to be played out against Poland on Tuesday. The Everton defender had mounted a late case for inclusion three years ago and was eventually overlooked by Capello in favour of Stephen Warnock, but his credentials are far more persuasive this time round. Ashley Cole is injured and absent. Baines excelled against Montenegro last week and will hope to prosper against the Poles, where victory will ensure progress.
Certainly the numbing disappointment provoked on that journey to a Merseyside retail park will provide ample personal motivation. The 28-year-old ended up watching England's underwhelming performances at that tournament not, as he first suggested with a smile, on the trampoline at the bottom of the garden – "I only caught bits of it, looking through the window, as I bounced," he offered – but while on holiday in Dubai with the injured Joleon Lescott and his family. There will have been times when both pondered what might have been as their friends and team-mates spluttered towards an ignominious second-round exit.
"It does make you doubly keen, remembering that, but World Cups don't come around very often in any player's career," said Baines. "I missed out having got quite close last time, being in the 30-man preliminary squad and then not the 23, and there won't be too many more of these finals for me at my age.
"I am sure I'm as desperate to get there this time as not only the younger lads, who maybe haven't been to one before, but the senior lads as well. For some it will be their last one. The desire is there across the board.
"The disappointment lingers for a while. It was still there when I came back for pre-season that summer, still lingering until I got out playing again and enjoying it. That was the 'moving on' point. But, here and now, we're not allowing ourselves to think about Brazil yet.
"The focus is purely on this last qualifying game because of what's on the line. It is hard to imagine a major tournament without England there, isn't it? But every now and again that happens and one of the major nations you expect to be there doesn't make it.
"We all remember six years back [the failure to qualify for Euro 2008]. We know and feel that disappointment when it doesn't happen. So, with that in mind, we all understand what is at stake. I guess, as a by-product of that, you are thinking about the summer because ultimately that's the goal.
"But, fundamentally, the focus is on what's in front of us now and getting that job done. There's no bigger carrot to dangle in front of anyone than to say: 'Win this and you are going to get to a World Cup in Brazil.'"
England have an opportunity on Tuesday, when victory against the side ranked fourth in the section and 65th in the world will confirm qualification without the need for a nerve-shredding two-legged play-off next month. Baines's aggressive running and whipped delivery will be needed to unsettle the visitors, just as he wounded Montenegro last week.
There would have been a logic to play the Evertonian in these critical fixtures rather than Ashley Cole, the veteran who has 105 caps, given the English had to win both games against opponents who had been expected to bank up in massed defence. Cole's defensive qualities are undiminished but Baines offers that set-piece delivery and added bite in the final third.
The older man's rib injury ensures his perennial understudy will earn a 21st cap – an eighth in competitive action – against the Poles. The argument often goes that his tally would have been swollen considerably had he been competing regularly in the Champions League, as Cole does so effectively.
Manchester United's summer desire to secure his services had briefly made that a possibility, even if David Moyes' bidding never reached a level to tempt Everton into a sale. All questions on that subject were off limits on Sunday, a Football Association press officer deflecting anything perceived to be too club-related for comfort.
And yet it is Baines's club form that makes him stand out from the crowd and could yet convince Roy Hodgson that, even if Cole is fit and available, the time has come for change.
"It's a tough one for the manager because, if you were in his shoes, you've got such a great player already in Ash and, if it's not broke, you don't fix it," he said.
"I just hope he feels he's got two guys that he can depend on. Ash has this wealth of experience I could never match. That adds weight to his case but hopefully the manager has confidence in me. I feel I've pushed [Cole] hard. I've no idea if, in the manager's mind, it's really close or if he always knows which he prefers, which has been Ash, and if that's always going to be the case when he's fit. But this is all I've ever known since I've been involved.
"You try to keep perspective on it but ultimately you are pushing and you want to play. There's no point in trying to hide that fact and just being happy to be here and toeing that line all the time. It's not always the case. You want to come and you want to play.
"I get on really well with Ash. Maybe it's not my nature [to be cold towards a rival] but the only influence I can have on anything is by my actions. Hopefully, if I keep doing the right things, my time will come. If it doesn't, well, I'll have given it everything I've got."
This fixture, if successful, would represent one last heave towards the finish line. Last week's result, and generally buoyant mood, should help steel the nerves. "We felt we knew the job in front of us and that we were capable of doing it," added Baines.
"There was a definite positive vibe throughout, that will get us through. Now everyone has come back to the squad [after Saturday's day off] feeling that same positivity. We know we can produce."