Not for all the tea in China…

This summer has proven to be long and anguishing for Evertonians the world over. The “will he, won’t he” transfer saga of one John Stones (to either Chelsea, or now also the Man’s Citteh and United) has dragged on for three months, first with Jose Mourinho’s 20 million pound bid, which was followed two weeks later by one for 25 million, and then another for 30 million. As mentioned, this elevated amount of interest has drawn the two Manchester behemoths into the mix (blood in the water will do that), and it is more and more turning into a matter of not if but when (and to whom) the young former Barnsley academy grad will head up stream to greener pastures.

That Stones is destined to move on to a club larger (and more profitable) than Everton is a forgone conclusion in the minds of many. Manager Roberto Martinez is not one of those, plainly indicating his vision for the player: a center pillar in his plan to build up a new generation of Evertonian greats, future Everton captain, perhaps even the same role for England.

The eyes of the footballing world (or at least England) are on this young man who has had such a meteoric rise from Barnsley’s academy.

And then, just now, we hear that the young man has handed in a transfer request. Many Evertonians will be letting out howls of despair, clenching their teeth in anger and wondering what it’s going to take to be able to hold onto their prized assets.

As a Toffeeman myself, I feel annoyed and somewhat ambivalent. I can understand the boy wants to play for Chelsea. It’s regular Champions League appearances, Premier League titles, yearly runs at the FA Cup… I mean, wouldn’t you? So it’s not a matter of not being able to see it from his side.

To his credit, Stones has not once in the three games he’s played looked like an unsettled player or that his role at Everton is somehow beneath him. No, it has been much the opposite: he has been a model professional, playing extremely well all three times. So this transfer request is simply a young player who, understanding his brand is hot right now, will attempt to leverage the attention being lavished upon him to force through a move to a bigger club. The reasons are good, and beyond those stated above, any promising professional would want to be surrounded by the very best in his chosen field.

It’s not that Stones is in the wrong. It’s just that his request should be utterly ignored, bottom drawered, and he must be made to honor his contract if that is what the owner of it, namely, Everton Football Club, deign necessary.

Football is an odd profession. You have these binding contracts that players sign and are not allowed to simply walk away from. I work a job in a call center. If I get offered a better job with better pay, I put in my two weeks notice and walk away. My employer cannot force me to stay here. But John Stones, as much as he has a right to want to play at a bigger club, has signed a binding contract that he must honor unless the club releases him of that responsibility. The only way that will happen is if they get a silly money offer. But I have a feeling even that won’t be enough.

Odds are pretty good Stones will get his move. But Martinez now needs to make a difficult decision: does he try to put Chelsea over the proverbial barrel and extract a record fee for the youngster? Does he then turn it around to pick up two defensive reinforcements and a few other coveted players? Or does he dig in his heels and say no, not under any circumstances, and just ride this one out with a player who will likely become unsettled and unhappy with the turn of events? Either way, he must act immediately. You get the sense that it is now too late in the day to get adequate cover.

For my money, Stones is too important to the cause. And so, even if he rides the bench for a few weeks, Stones must be made to stay. He will get his move. Just not this window.

Furthermore, Everton must throw down the gauntlet here. There is something to be said about the nakedly provocative nature of Chelsea’s pursuit of the youngster. Comments by Mourinho, Chelsea captain John Terry and backline partner Gary Cahill cannot be seen as anything other than tapping a player up through the press. The London aristocrats should be made pay for their impudence by not only missing out on their number one summer target, but be made to watch their coveted prize sold to another club. Everton should make arrangements for Stones to be offered to the likes of Manchester United or even a club on the continent, such as Bayern Munich. You get the sense Stones would profit greatly (as would the Three Lions) from having played in Spain or Germany. At this stage, with so few cards to play, Everton must not sell Stones to Chelsea merely on principle.

that last bit there is a bit of my own spleen-venting. I’d rather loan him to Liverpool at this stage. Chelsea can go spontaneously explode for all I care.

Not that this is going to happen. The most likely scenario is Mourinho and Co. will come back with 32 million quid and a smug grin, and a deal will be hammered out. Chelsea will be in Goodison on 12 September, the first game back after the international break, and you can expect a mutinous atmosphere at the Old Lady. If I were Mourinho, I’d pick up a nasty cold or something and simply not show, so hot will the hatred be in the place for him. Stones would be advised to stay in London. And it will be an ugly, card-littered affair.

Even if the Toffees prevail in holding on to their star defender, you get the sense that Chelsea’s next turnout at Goodison will be an acrimonious one. If they lose him… it will color their meetings for years. David Moyes took immense personal satisfaction in beating Manchester City in the years following their successful luring of centerback Joleon Lescott. You get the sense that dynamic would be present again.

Martinez has spoken of his desire to build a team, and is recruiting younger players to do just that. There were six players on the pitch under the age of 22 in the last two games, and you get the sense Martinez has been prioritizing youth in this transfer window. At 21, Stones is central to his plans. As Everton’s legendary ‘keeper Neville Southall recently stated, what sort of message would selling Stones send out to the other young players in the team?

It’s a fair point. Here’s a counterpoint: holding onto Stones for the sake of it might be a bit of hubris.

I think, in the balance, it’s important that Everton hang onto Stones for this window and then reward him with improved terms on his contract. He has proven that he can be a professional and do the job even when his head’s been turned. He’s young, he can hang in for another year or two. It’s no train smash in his career if he stays a bit longer as he is so young now.

His very youth might be a card to play in this particular game. As good as he is, he he has a lot about his game to improve and he will have a greater chance to do so playing regularly every week. While Terry has seen his performances questioned in his last two outings (substituted in one and red-carded in the other), there is no guarantee that the old soldier is going to roll over and allow a callow youngster such as Stones to usurp his spot in the starting eleven. The far more likely scenario is Stones will find himself on the bench for the remainder of this season. That would likely mean he would have to prove his worth all over again to England manager Roy Hodgson, who will not select him if he is not playing.

If Stones has already thought this one through and he is insistent enough, then perhaps Martinez will have to just accept the inevitable. But the carrot of a starting berth in the Three Lions in next summer’s Euros and the promise of a move in the next summer transfer window could just be enough to keep the young man put, for now. Here’s hoping he stays…