If Roberto Martinez was despairing over his attempts to convince John Stones to remain an Everton player these past few days, the Premier League chief executive was on hand to provide the Spaniard a strong starting block.
With the richest league in the world fast approaching its 24th season, Richard Scudamore greeted the media with his now customary defence of the product in light of the nation’s failings at another international tournament.
England Under-21s’ failure to qualify from the group stages at the European Championships in the Czech Republic was high on the agenda, as was the FA’s proposals to increase the number of homegrown players present in each Premier League squad in order to detract them from buying overseas.
While those subjects are not inherently linked, Scudamore appeared armed with a ready retort, voicing his annoyance at feeling the league had once more become viewed as a scapegoat for the national team’s failings.
‘We get hung up about how they can’t possibly be good enough unless they’re playing for Chelsea or Man United,’ he said.
‘Of course they can be good enough. How are they going to get into the first teams of Chelsea and Man City? Widen your horizons.
‘Why shouldn’t the England team come from the top 12 teams in the Championship and the bottom 10 teams of the Premier League? Costa Rica played very well in the World Cup, and where are they playing their league football?’
Regardless of Scudamore’s stance, Premier League clubs would appear to have taken heed of FA chairman Greg Dyke’s plans to focus more on their academies, albeit via checking every possible loophole.
This summer has seen the Premier League’s top clubs buying British, with Liverpool bringing no fewer than four English players to Anfield, while Raheem Sterling’s arrival at Manchester City is one of a trio to bolster Manuel Pellegrini’s homegrown quota.
With Chelsea duo Cesc Fabregas and Asmir Begovic set to lose their homegrown status if Dyke’s plans are pushed through (players will have had to have played for three years in England prior to their 18th birthday), Joe Mourinho and his intermediaries are now looking ahead.
The Premier League champions allowed Josh McEachran to leave for Brentford this summer, after failing to break into the first team five years on from making his Blues debut.
McEachran’s case is one that Chelsea target Stones would do well to note if he is interested in a move to Stamford Bridge, as sections of the English media would have us believe.
The London Evening Standard have been campaigning all week for the Stones move to gather momentum, with Gary Cahill questioned over the nature of his arrival at Chelsea from Bolton Wanderers in 2010, as well as his thoughts on Stones making the same journey to west London.
‘In terms of ambition, if you’re a young player in the game, have played in the Premier League like he did a lot last year, and a big club come calling, it’s very difficult to turn down because you want to achieve the most you can in the short period you have in your career as a professional footballer.
‘When a top club come calling, who you know will be firing on all fronts with competitions and medals, that’s ultimately what you want to be playing for. It’s hard to turn down, of course.’
What perhaps Cahill hadn’t factored into his line of courting was the stature of the club who currently pay Stones’ wages, compared to both the club he left, Bolton, and the club who have bought three Premier League titles in the past decade.
Nine-time English champions Everton are a gigantic club, where the player who has become the media’s puppet the past week is far from the finished article.
But conversely, Mourinho is right to think that Stones’ price may rise to beyond even Chelsea’s budget.
With Sterling costing a British record fee at £49million and Luke Shaw setting Manchester United back a minimum £27m, Mourinho’s hopes of landing Stones last week for less than the highest fee paid for an English defender was derisory and insulting.
Of course, the 21-year-old Stones has not yet converted from a £3m acquisition from Barnsley in 2013 to a player superior to what Rio Ferdinand was when he joined United from Leeds in the summer of 2002.
The demand for young English players means they are sold at a premium, and while Evertonians might take comfort in this – and the knowledge that Stones is on a long-term contract at Goodison Park – the truth is that unless their manager and board now shows one of their prized assets how ambitious the club is going forward, Stones has every reason to move south.
Ultimately, it was Aston Villa’s inability to prevent Liverpool from activating Christian Benteke’s £32.5m release clause that persuaded club captain Fabian Delph to make a second U-turn and join City last week, and should Martinez fail to react positively to Mourinho’s blatant destabilising tactics, there is no guarantee that other members of his squad will not look for pastures new too.
While Stones’ abundance of potential makes him the natural successor to John Terry for England, a move this summer in order to learn from the experienced defender is not something he lacks on Merseyside.
Cahill has gone from strength to strength playing with Terry, but Stones’ meteoric rise is thanks in part to the understanding he has developed in a back four that on its day is a match for any Premier League side.
That last season saw Everton concede a league-high number of goals via individual mistakes (15) is further evidence that Stones ought to prove he is worthy of a British record transfer fee paid over the next campaign.
His confidence with the ball at his feet didn’t make him immune from culpability at times, but it is to be expected from a player with only two years worth of top flight experience.
While Stones can be thankful for having a manager that encourages such patient build-up play from the back, Martinez can no longer bask in the false perception of his side being a top five outfit.
Last summer saw the Toffees flaunt their ambitions with the £28m arrival of Romelu Lukaku in addition to the long-term contract penned by Ross Barkley, but it’s time for Martinez to make a case for strengthening the defence.
Tim Howard is to return to the international fold with USA following his year-long sabbatical in a bid to rekindle his form up until last summer’s World Cup.
But beyond the set back four in front of the American (Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, John Stones, Seamus Coleman), Martinez is yet to bring in reinforcements for the departed Sylvain Distin and Antolin Alcaraz.
His faith in Tyias Browning, Brendan Galloway and the newly-committed Luke Garbutt is commendable but not enough to put pressure on the experienced but increasingly complacent quartet in front of them.
Time is on Stones’ side, and a move now to become a squad player could jeopardise his place in England’s Euro 2016 squad next summer, but the same cannot be said for Martinez.
The signings of Tom Cleverley and Gerard Deulofeu have masked the fires he has been fighting to keep hold of Kevin Mirallas and James McCarthy.
The Blues maintained their position in the top eight under David Moyes in part due to the Scot’s manner of driving a hard bargain for the sale of a top player.
Martinez must now show how much he is willing to build his Goodison reign around Stones.