Everton fans received a welcome boost ahead of the new season as Mikel Arteta quashed speculation of a move to Manchester City, Arsenal or Barcelona by signing a new five-year contract at Goodison Park. With the Spaniard’s future secure, it is only the next move of Steven Pienaar that remains uncertain.
Arteta followed Tim Cahill in committing the next stage of his career to Everton, and coming in the same summer that Leighton Baines and Jack Rodwell also penned extensive new deals many of Everton’s key transfer moves have been to tie down their most sought after players. Arteta had two years remaining on his contract but by clinching the No. 10’s signature at this stage, Everton have avoided a Pienaar-like situation. The South African has entered the final year of his contract with little outside of rumour and conjecture to indicate what will happen next. But the capture of Arteta in the face of genuine interest from the Premier League and abroad is a strong statement of the Toffees’ intent and the players’ genuine belief that David Moyes’ goals can be realised. At 28, Arteta is in his peak footballing years and his new contract should ensure he sees them out on the blue half of Merseyside.
Whether Pienaar will remain alongside Arteta in the Everton midfield past the end of the 2010/11 season remains to be seen – indeed, many suitors would like to end Pienaar’s Everton career before the close of the transfer window. While Moyes may be working on a comparatively limited budget, Everton are not in a position where they need to sell to balance the books, nor can they afford to be held to ransom by a player looking for an extortionate wage hike. But the manager admitted Everton need to pay their top players more handsomely, saying, just days before Arteta’s new contract was finalised: ”We cannot keep our best players if our wages don’t increase. We have to make sure we keep the players we have got at the moment even if we can’t go out and spend on new talent all the time.” Moyes was being as realistic as ever when he made those comments, stating what may be an unpopular opinion but one that is undeniably true – if Everton do not pay their star players what the market determines is adequate, someone else will. Whether £75 000 a week for someone who plays football for a living, not saves lives or something similarly noble, is deemed adequate is a whole other debate. However as the threshold rises each year, Everton have to match it or be left behind.
The validity of Arteta’s rumoured new wage packet may be questionable but the former Glasgow Rangers player was paid around £45 000 a week previously, and it is safe to assume a new contract brings with it a substantial new wage. Pienaar has been offered a contract for £60 000 a week, some £15 000 short of Arteta, and herein lies a real problem with multi-million pound contracts. A player’s wage should reflect his importance to the team, and Arteta has just become the highest paid player at Everton – fair enough for the team’s creative hub and, more than that, a player with whom the Everton fans feel a deep connection. But Pienaar is also a vital cog in the Moyes machine and after his efforts last season, when at times he carried the side on his back as the only player showing even a spark of life, Pienaar could realistically expect to be placed on the same level as Arteta. And now, that level is £75 000 a week – if Everton are not willing to put Pienaar on that level, he may look for a club who will.
By stalling on a new contract and letting the final year of his existing deal run down, the amount per week Pienaar can reasonably command from a new club increases in the absence of a transfer fee. With a few years left on his contract, Pienaar would be worth a massive sum in today’s market. But now, with free agency within sight, Pienaar’s value plummets, leaving it outside Everton’s best interests to sell. But, the question should be asked, is it in Everton’s best interests to set £75 000 a week as the benchmark for their top players, however inevitable it may be? Agreement on a new contract for Pienaar may be forthcoming, but at what cost?