Everton are reportedly growing increasingly worried that they will be forced to sell John Stones as Chelsea prepare a third bid for the England defender.
The Blues have had bids of £20m and £26m rejected, according to The Telegraph, but manager Jose Mourinho has great faith in Stones and has made him his top target for the remainder of the summer.
The Telegraph also reports that the Premier League champions are readying an improved £30m offer for the 21-year-old, despite Roberto Martinez’s firm stance that he is staying put.
Everton manager Martinez reiterated this week that the Toffees are determined to hang onto Stones, who has quickly forged a sterling reputation for himself with his strength, pace and calmness at the back.
Martinez is quoted by ESPN as saying: “He is one of the most talented centre-backs in European football and we feel we have a special footballer with us.
“There is nothing to discuss and teams putting bids in for him doesn’t mean anything.
“You’re going to get clubs that are working with big budgets because they have been working in the Champions League, but we are a club with nine league titles. We are a big club.
“What we want is to build and what we want to do is concentrate on the future and we are not a selling club by any means. The situation with John is as you would expect.
“On the outside it seems turmoil and many things happening, but internally John comes in and trains and needs to try to earn his place and keep improving, keep taking responsibility and nothing else.”
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But the Telegraph suggests that Goodison Park officials would struggle to resist the temptation to cash in on the former Barnsley youngster should Chelsea return with a figure over the £30m mark.
The Telegraph adds that Everton could be convinced to sell for £34m, a fee that would eclipse the £28m that Manchester United paid for former England captain Rio Ferdinand in 2002, as BBC Sport reports.
Ferdinand told The Guardian, who credit United with an interest in Stones, on Tuesday that the young defender would be better off joining the Red Devils to avoid sitting on the bench at Stamford Bridge.
But Louis van Gaal has numerous centre-back options in the form of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind and Tyler Blackett, while Chelsea are not as strongly stocked with defensive depth.
Although the partnership of John Terry and Gary Cahill is well established, the Blues will soon need some fresh blood in this area, with their long-serving skipper approaching his 35th birthday.
A couple of years of grooming under the tutelage of the best defenders that England currently have to offer would set Stones up nicely for what many expect to be a very long and successful career.
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