According to a headline spun off the back of his first press conference as manager, new Everton chief Ronald Koeman allegedly spoke of his desire to keep in-demand Toffees stars Romelu Lukaku and John Stones.
The duo are coveted across he continent, the latter following yet another stellar Premier League campaign, the former thanks to his reputation as one of the world’s finest young defenders.
However, what the Dutchman actually told the media conveyed a message slightly misaligned with the defiant impression the headline gives.
On Everton’s 18-goal striker, he said:
“Lukaku is a key player, a goalscorer, you don’t want to lose your best players. If I can do something about that, I will.”
It’s more of a statement of resignation than of obstinate determination to ensure the Belgian superstar stays, akin to that which predecessor Roberto Martinez demonstrated when Chelsea tried to lure Stones away last term.
The Toffees’ rejection of countless Blues bids – the final refused gambit reported to be in the region of £40m – and a transfer request from the player, no doubt contributed to a stark downturn in the England international’s 2015/16 form.
Stones’ performances degenerated to the extent that he found himself out of the team for a large chunk of 2016, often filling in at right-back when called upon as opposed to his preferred central berth.
Turning down Chelsea’s advances is a move that the now jobless Martinez no doubt regrets and, judging from Koeman’s quotes, it seems he won’t make the same mistake of forcing unsettled assets to stay.
On Stones’ future, the ex-Southampton supremo said:
“First I would like to talk to him personally, ask what his feeling is and make conclusions.”
Again, he reveals no unwavering commitment to keeping the 22-year-old, instead adopting a relaxed ‘if he wants to leave, he can’ attitude.
In four of the previous seven campaigns, Everton have seen key first team players – Marouane Fellaini, Jack Rodwell, Mikel Arteta and Joleon Lescott – depart for teams of loftier stature.
However, in each case (except, perhaps, £10m Arteta) they received a sum of money disproportionate with the sold star’s importance to their new employers.
Obviously, if Lukaku leaves, he’ll play a bigger role for whomever buys him than Rodwell did at Manchester City, for example, but Everton are certain to receive an outrageous transfer fee for his services and, as Koeman showed at Southampton, there aren’t many better at sourcing adept replacements and overseeing rapid rebuilds than the feted Dutchman.