The uneasy truth is that as long as Everton’s ownership is uncertain these sorts of stories are going to crop up with alarming regularity, whatever the substance to rumoured Arsenal interest in Baines and Chelsea interest in Fellaini. The squad assembled by David Moyes is positively glittering with valuable names and as Everton tread water on and off the pitch, the vultures will inevitably circle. Moyes batted back interest in Phil Jagielka from Arsenal last summer and Jack Rodwell from Manchester United in January, as well as warding off suitors for Mikel Arteta with an enormous new contract for the Spaniard, £75,000 a week making the midfielder the highest paid player in Everton history. The new deals for Baines and Jagielka signed recently included wage hikes, although not in the region of Arteta, but the forthcoming talks with Fellaini could reveal a flaw in Everton’s wage structure created after Arteta signed his contract last summer.
At the time he signed the contract Arteta was Everton’s most important midfielder, the creative hub of all their good play and a talismanic figure, beloved by the supporters. The love still remains but Arteta’s influence has diminished. Arteta’s off-colour season has reduced Everton’s dependence on the No 10, who spent much of the season struggling – and mostly failing – to rediscover the immaculate touch and vision that so cheered Evertonians. Only in the two immediate games before a hamstring injury threatened to end his season early did Arteta appear close to his previous best, and that was from a left-wing position similar to the role he took when first arriving at Goodison in 2005, rather than what had become his customary spot in the heart of midfield. While Arteta floundered, Fellaini thrived. After the early part of his season was hampered by an injury lingering from the last campaign, Fellaini spent a few imperious months commanding Everton’s midfield before injury ended his season early again in February.
Fellaini’s impressive performances and eventual season-ending injury all came under the spectre of a contract that had two years to run, and coming so soon after Steven Pienaar flitted away early for a cut price with his contract soon to expire, the trepidation felt from the stands was both palpable and understandable. Fellaini cannot be allowed to fall into the Pienaar situation – he is much younger than the South African, with a much higher resale value – but he would be justified in asking to match wages with Arteta, given their respective form this season. One player being paid £75,000 threatened to stretch Everton’s budget to breaking point – two could finally do it. Not rewarding Fellaini fully, however, could set in motion his departure from Goodison either this summer or next, and those tabloid tales might eventually come true.