In the midst of what should have been a week of excitement and celebration for Everton Football Club, which saw its Europa League hopes grow exponentially on Sunday, the Toffees have instead been mired in a nightmare — Romelu Lukaku may not sign a new contract to stay with the club past next season.
It’s been a whirlwind few weeks on the Lukaku contract front, so let’s quickly recap what exactly has happened so far.
- February 9 - Lukaku’s agent, Mino Raiola, tells Jim White on talkSPORT that talks are ongoing between the player and club, and Lukaku “will sign” an improved deal with Everton. Raiola, who also represents Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, to name a few, made similar comments in December.
- February 27 - Raiola again speaks to talkSPORT, this time saying “I am 99.9999% sure he will sign” at Everton.
- February 28 - Lukaku speaks to Jamie Carragher of Sky Sports about a variety of topics; he briefly mentions contract talks, saying “My agent has been doing the talks, and I think you can see from what I do on the pitch that I am really happy here.”
- March 7 - talkSPORT reports that Lukaku and Raiola have agreed on a deal and all that remains to finalize the contract is the signature of Bill Kenwright. Reports suggest that the Belgian’s contract will be around £140,000 per week.
- March 13 - Lukaku speaks to Belgian journalist Kristof Terreur after the match against West Bromwich Albion. The following exchange occurs:
Are you going to sign that new contract?— Kristof Terreur (@HLNinEngeland) March 13, 2017
- Lukaku: "No."
Are you still reflecting about it?
- RL: "No."
Is there an agreement?
- RL: "No." pic.twitter.com/dgJYyJUBur
The man to Lukaku’s right is a representative of Everton, who appears not to be bothered by the exchange.
- March 14 - Reports begin to surface that Lukaku has had a change of heart and wants to play in the Champions League next season, so he wants to leave the club.
- March 15 - Everton majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri tells Jim White “It is not an issue. We have a strong relationship with the player and his agent....The club is committed to an improved contract for the player....No one should worry. He is our player.”
One thing jumps out at me immediately when reviewing the events of the past month or so — there’s been very little said publicly by either the club or the player. Lukaku’s first comments of note came when speaking to Carragher at the end of February, with the player saying that a new contract was in the works and he was happy at Everton.
His only public comments since then came in the bizarre interview after the West Brom match. Standing right next to a representative of the club, Lukaku plainly answers “No” to three questions about the contract negotiations. There’s a bunch of ways to potentially read into this. (Warning: the rest of this piece is totally speculative)
- Lukaku plainly meant what he said — he isn’t signing a new contract, isn’t thinking about signing a new contract, and there’s no agreement in place. It seems a strange thing to say with a smile on your face, after a big victory, next to a representative of the club you’re potentially saying you want to leave — but it’s certainly possible.
- Lukaku thinks better of saying anything, one way or the other, about ongoing contract negotiations. He chooses simply to give short, non-committal answers and get out of the situation.
- Lukaku treats the situation as some kind of joke.
Personally, I tend to think the second option is the most likely, but there’s arguments to be made for all three.
The only comment from a club representative on the negotiations came from Moshiri today, who looked to calm the fraying nerves among supporters. Obviously, Moshiri wasn’t going to come out and say, “Well, looks like we’re going to lose our top player. Sorry about that everyone!”
However, Moshiri has largely been a silent leader since coming on board at Everton, and he easily could have chosen to say nothing at all. The fact that he appears to have gone out of his way to make comments to Jim White is an indication that the Iranian businessman at least as some hope that the situation will work itself out.
Everything else that was publicly said to the media came from the mouth of Raiola, hardly a reliable source. Without a doubt, it was in Raiola’s interest to portray contract talks as nearly complete.
By saying that the talks were nearly complete, he has put tremendous pressure on Everton to meet his demands (whatever they may be). This is the case because the club will now fear that it will be viewed as liable in the eyes of its supporters for letting its biggest star get away when a contract appeared to be so close — of course, it only appeared close in the first place because Raiola said it was.
The message out of the Lukaku camp, namely that the player wants to participate in the Champions League next season, is fortuitously timed for the Belgian as well. Surely it did not just occur to Lukaku that he wants to compete on Europe’s biggest stage next season, and Everton cannot get him there. However, now that those comments are out there at such a crucial juncture, other clubs will feel they can pry Lukaku away from Merseyside on the cheap.
Lukaku has proven this season that he’s an elite player, and it’s his right to want that kind of stage week-to-week. But the idea that he’s only just set his heart on that, when a long-term commitment to Everton seemed just days away? Give me a break.
So where does that leave us?
In my opinion, with still a whole lot left to be decided. Lukaku’s public statements, in my eyes, seem to indicate that he still could potentially see a future for himself at Everton. His lack of action to assure that his agent makes it so, however, also indicates that he’d be ready to move on if the right offer comes.
The statements of Farhad Moshiri point to a lingering hope that Lukaku could remain at Everton. The Toffees’ financial leader has infrequently made public statements during his time at Everton, so the fact that he’s chosen this moment to comment speaks volumes. That he’s done so in such a calm, assured way is a high-risk game — if Lukaku leaves, Evertonians will surely remember his call for everyone to calm down.
So, it seems he really believes he can get Lukaku to sign this contract.
Raiola, for his part, has contributed typical agent shenanigans to this controversy. It was Raiola who portrayed the deal as almost complete, whipped Evertonians into a frenzy before pulling the rug out from under them. The authenticity of Lukaku’s “change of heart” is questionable at best given its timing — as is its true author. To what extent, one must wonder, has Lukaku called these shots as opposed to his agent?
Either way, one thing is clear — we’ve still a long way to go before this gets resolved either positively or negatively.