Despite publicly denying Romelu Lukaku is for sale, Everton privately fear losing the 22-year-old forward this summer, with Manchester United in pole position to sign him, according to the Mirror.
Yet, quite why they should tremble at the thought of the Old Trafford club’s keenness to lure him away is unclear.
Lukaku’s primary reason for leaving Goodison Park is Champions League football, which he wants to experience as soon as possible.
“I’m 23 next summer and I think it would be nice to play in the Champions League from next season,” the former Chelsea man told Sky Sports while away on international duty with Belgium.
The Reds, currently involved in a four-way go for the fourth qualification place, are far from guaranteed to be there.
John Cross, writer of the Mirror article, insists the Toffees are worried that they will lose their man to United “even if Louis van Gaal doesn’t get them into the Champions League.”
Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe a player who has voiced his desire to play elite European football would really consider going to a club whose status at that level is so fragile.
Especially not when it’s considered that he has also been linked with interest from clubs of the unimpeachable stature of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.
The latter, in particular, are virtually guaranteed Champions League football year-in-year-out due to the relative weakness of Ligue 1.
Les Parisiens also seem certain to be in the market for a world-level striker this summer, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and potentially Edinson Cavani too moving on.
Cross also plays down the likelihood that Jose Mourinho will be the Reds’ next manager being off-putting to Lukaku.
Mourinho remained unconvinced of his worth to the Chelsea cause despite him scoring 33 goals in 71 games as a teenage loanee at first West Brom, then Everton.
The Goodison goal getter may have insisted publicly there is no animosity between the pair, but it is unlikely that playing under the Portuguese would be his Plan A after another productive campaign.
Moreover, Mourinho has turned his back on similarly classy players before, with Juan Mata and Kevin De Bruyne both jettisoned while he was at Stamford Bridge.
His reasoning behind those unpopular moves was firm, but fair. The players in question were not sufficiently willing to play within his strict, preferred guidelines.
As such, whether the Belgian would even be a signing he desired is open to question.