Roberto Martinez and Everton have been busy ensuring that they can capitalise on their success last season, repeating their top-five finish in the Premier League and also mounting a convincing Europa League campaign. And yet in many ways nothing much has changed.
The Merseyside club splashed out £28m in signing one of the most sought-after strikers in the top flight and also secured the services of perhaps the most influential player to be available on a free transfer. However, they already had Romelu Lukaku on loan from Chelsea last season, and similarly Gareth Barry was also in the team last term, on loan from Manchester City.
So the retention of their brightest young talents is no more than you would expect of a team in the process of consolidation, even if it might be a temptation for a club that lacks financial clout to cash in whenever the likes of Manchester United come calling.
They secured the signature of the much fancied midfield maestro Ross Barkley on a four-year contract at the end of last month and today they were pleased to announce that another England tyro, the centre-back John Stones, has been tied down with a new five-year deal.
“With the lads we’ve got on board from last season we can only better ourselves,” Stones said. “It will be a very exciting season and the work we’ve done in the background has been very positive so far. We’re very focused in what we want this season and in Europe.”
The 20-year-old was named as a standby for Roy Hodgson’s England World Cup squad after an impressive debut season at Everton and won his first cap for the national side at the end of May. He said that Everton’s ambition was crucial to his decision to commit himself to the club, though other suitors have been sniffing around.
“It’s key that we’re all on the same wavelength with what we want and I’m sure we all know what we want [to achieve] together – that’s top five, top four and progressing in the Europa League. We’ll go out and express ourselves and achieve that hopefully,” he said.
Having shattered the club’s transfer record on Lukaku, Martinez has no plans to sign more players this summer and today he emphasised that consistency is the key.
“I said at the start of the transfer window we need continuity,” the Everton manager said. “It’s very important that everything we did last season had a bit of continuation this season and John Stones is part of that. His performances at a very young age were full of potential, full of exactly what we want our defenders to do. We’re very, very pleased with the additions we’ve had and continuing with important members of our squad.”
Though the Europa League is often viewed as a distraction to Premier League ambitions, Martinez sees it as a further testing ground for young players like Stones. “We want him to keep developing and keep getting tested,” he said. “He’s going to get that playing in Europe. In pre-season we’ve faced different opposition and it’s something we’re looking forward to next season.
“In Europe you get stretched and pushed in different ways and I think John and the other young players will benefit immensely from that experience.”