Everton defender John Stones has signed a new long-term contract with the club which ties him to Goodison Park until 2019 and should, if all goes to plan, keep potential suitors at bay for the time being at least.
Stones enjoyed a breakthrough season in the 2013/14 campaign, with the 20-year-old able to make the most of injury Phil Jagielka by filling in more than capably for the club captain during his lengthy absence.
So impressive were Stones’ performances in the centre of the Everton defence that he earned an unexpected place on England’s standby list for the World Cup, making his debut during the pre-tournament friendly win over Peru.
This rise to prominence also resulted in links to other Premier League clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea most notable among them, so it does represent something of a coup that Everton have been able secure his signature.
Stones is reported to have earned a significant pay increase to £30,000-per-week and is keen to build on his own and the team’s performances from last season, during which they finished in fifth position in the league.
“I am over the moon. It’s just been such a great last season and to get pen to paper on a new deal is a dream come true,” he told the official Everton website.
“The last 12 months have been so enjoyable thanks to the faith that the manager has shown in me and all the players.
“What we achieved was unbelievable. It was a very memorable season and hopefully there’s more to come.”
The Stones deal represents the third significant announcement from Everton in around a week, with the club having initially tied Ross Barkley down to a new contract and then confirmed the record acquisition of Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea.
David Moyes’ departure little over a year ago raised concerns that Everton may crumble after a decade of stability, but the appointment of Roberto Martinez saw the club almost surpass the achievements of their previous manager in a single season.
Martinez promised upon his arrival that he would get Everton into the Champions League. It was a bold assertion, but one he nearly achieved. There is now great optimism that the new campaign will see that promised fulfilled.
Watch: Roberto Martinez on the new season
Top four race
There will, however, be greater competition for the coveted top four positions than ever before in the 2014-15 season.
Arsenal, the team to beat Everton to fourth last term, have been able to strengthen with a number of signings - even if Stones was not among them - with Alexis Sanchez the marquee acquisition for Arsene Wenger.
Chelsea have also improved significantly while champions Manchester City and runners up Liverpool have bought well. But it is Manchester United who will be the worry for all those to have finished above them last season.
A seventh placed finish will surely not be repeated this term with Louis van Gaal at the helm and, with Tottenham included in the race, there will be seven clubs battling for just four spots come May.
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