Everton FC have issued a ‘hands off’ warning to Manchester City over star midfielder Ross Barkley as the player looks to step up his comeback from knee ligament injury.
The 20-year-old is set to be back in training at Finch Farm this week with manager Roberto Martinez targeting a playing return for him before the end of October either at Lille in the Blues next Europa League game or the Premier League trip to Burnley.
However, Goodison chiefs have been angered by the timing of suggestions that ace Barkley has been lined up by the Premier League champions as their number one transfer target for next summer.
City enquired about Barkley before the World Cup finals but were put off by Everton’s £50million valuation of a player they consider to be the brightest young talent in the English game.
The club’s chief executive Ferran Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain felt this figure to be excessive but they will be met with a similar iron stance from Everton next year if they come back in for the lifelong Evertonian who penned a new long-term £65,000-a-week contract at the start of this season.
Everton FC v Celta Vigo in pre-season friendly action at Prenton Park, Tranmere. Ross Barkley on the attack
City claim their valuation of Barkley – a player who has been compared to Paul Gascoigne and Michael Ballack – is a mere £20million. Everton would consider such an offer as completely derisory considering they sold a then 27-year-old defender Joleon Lescott to City for £22million over five years ago.
Even a suggestion that City would be willing to accept paying an ‘English premium’ to raise their offer to £30million would be seen as well below any value the Blues would even consider.
Despite their successes, City’s squad is the oldest in the Premier League with an average age of almost 29 and they are eager to build for the future with some fresh blood.
However, Barkley will be put off by the fact that their previous purchases of young English talent has often ended in failure with City gaining a reputation for being something of a football graveyard for domestic prospects.
Everton’s last midfield protégé Jack Rodwell had also just broken into the England team when he quit Goodison for the Etihad in a £12million switch in 2012, but has subsequently seen his stock plummet after a nightmare two-year spell in Manchester and was recently offloaded to Sunderland.
The likes of Adam Johnson and Scott Sinclair also flopped at City with the former now with Rodwell at the Stadium of Light and the latter out on loan at West Brom.
Blues boss Roberto Martinez is looking forward to working alongside a fit-again Barkley.
He said: “He’ll be like a fresh, new player for us. From Monday I want him to be part of it and in probably a couple of weeks we should be able to see Ross in the squad.
“Now it’s a matter of getting him match fitness and getting him up to speed. Ross has been working really well and I don’t expect any setbacks.
“I expect Ross, from now on, to have a real clear path to get his match fitness back.”