Money can’t buy you Stones

That’s what Everton fans were singing last week during our match against Tottenham Hotspur:

But why? Here’s the back story.

It began with a familiar scenario. Just before the start of most English Premier League seasons, a top-4 club wants to pry a star player away from Everton. We initially refuse but end up selling. It happened with Wayne Rooney, Joleon Lescott, Mikel Arteta, and Marouane Fellaini, just to name the main examples.

The purchasing club has the upper hand because the player invariably wants to leave us. Who wouldn’t be tempted by Champions League football with Manchester United or Arsenal?

But different players handle the drama — which is exacerbated by the fact that the transfer window extends into the beginning of the season — in different ways. Lescott put in truly dreadful defensive performance in Everton’s opener — a 6-0 defeat, as I recall. Our fans will never forgive him.

(To avoid such disasters, managers now often refuse to use players who are being heavily courted. Star players David DeGea, Victor Wanyama, and Saido Berahino were all benched by their clubs at the start of this season for that reason).

Rooney ended up in such a bitter war of words with the club that then-manager, David Moyes, instituted a legal action against him (it was resolved only when Rooney formally apologized). The two were later reunited when Moyes became Man U’s manager. Rooney played brilliantly for Moyes, one of the very few ManUres who did.

Fellaini handled his exit with class, enabling Everton to maximize its transfer fee.

This year, Chelsea targeted John Stones, a brilliant 21 year-old defender who already plays for England’s national team. Stones is Everton’s best young player since Rooney.

Chelsea sees Stones as a natural replacement for the great John Terry who finally seems to be slipping. Accordingly, it went after him hard.

Stones has three years left on his Everton contract, so Chelsea knew it would take a huge offer to pry him away. But Chelsea, owned by Russia tycoon Roman Abramovich, didn’t doubt that the saga would end as these sagas always do — with Chelsea getting its man. As one Chelsea blogger wrote of Everton’s resistance, “it’s going to be hilarious when we fly John Stones [in] at the llth hour on Sept. 1.”

Chelsea’s first bid was 20 million pounds, not ridiculous considering the market for defenders, but light considering what Stones accomplished before his 21st birthday. Naturally, Everton rejected it.

The bid was followed by offers of 26 and 30 million. The answer remained no.

While Chelsea regrouped, Stones, whose conduct had been exemplary, cracked. He submitted a transfer request — a player’s way of trying to force his club to sell him.

That same day, Chelsea made another offer. This one was for the astounding sum of 37 million pounds, a fee in excess of the British record for a defender. Stones secluded himself at a local hotel.

The day after Chelsea’s offer and Stone’s transfer request, we played away at Barnsley in a Cup-tie. Barnsley is where it all started for Stones. Barnsley-born, he came up through the Tykes youth system before Everton bought him at age 18 for around 3 million pounds.

Considering the turmoil surrounding Stones and the likelihood that we could defeat lowly Barnsley without him, the natural move would have been to bench Stones. But manager Roberto Martinez wanted to make a statement. He played Stones.

It seemed likely that Barnsley would be where Stones’ Everton career ended. Throughout the match, the commentators sounded pretty sure that we were witnessing Stones’ last appearance for the Toffees.

For his part, Stones, who played well in Everton’s first three Premier League matches, looked less assured than normal. Everton yielded three goals, one of which was due to a Stones error, to an opponent from England’s third tier league. Fortunately, we scored five.

After the final whistle, reporters pressed Everton manager Roberto Martinez about Stones’ future. Martinez responded, “Not for sale, not at all.” “Money cannot buy everything in life, there are some things like values,” he explained.

But would ownership, always in need of cash, back Martinez? The answer came the next day when Everton formally rejected Chelsea’s record offer. “It’s no good thinking that because you have a Champions League budget you’re going to click your fingers and get anything you want,” said Martinez.

Later in the week, as noted above, Everton fans put Martinez’s theme to music during our match against Tottenham Hotspur. Borrowing from their fellow Liverpudlians, the fans sang:


For his part, Stones was rock solid. His stellar play helped us keep a clean sheet against one of the best attacking sides in the EPL.

The sage may not be over, though. The transfer window re-opens in January and rumor has it that Chelsea will come in with an offer of 40 million pounds.

Frankly, selling Stones for 40 million (or 37 million) would be good business, in theory. The problem is that selling him in August would probably have wrecked our season before it could really begin because we had no replacement in the heart of the defense.

Sylvain Distin, age 37, had been sold after years of good service. At the last minute we were able to sign Ramiro Funes Mori, born in Argentina and raised in the U.S. But it probably would have taken half a dozen games or more to integrate him into the team. In any event, an EPL team needs more than just two experienced central defenders.

By January, Mori might have established himself and Everton might have lined up another quality defender to buy. For now, we have Stones and, we hope, Stones is all you need.