LONDON • Romelu Lukaku has delivered a huge blow to Everton by telling the English football club that he will not sign a new contract.
The striker stunned club officials by breaking the news on Tuesday just as they were expecting him to agree a new five-year deal that would have been worth about £140,000 (S$240,000) a week.
The 23-year-old's agent, Mino Raiola, had repeatedly insisted Lukaku would accept lucrative new terms and claimed the Belgium international had agreed "99.9 per cent" of the new deal that would have made him the best-paid player in the club's history.
Everton will attempt to talk the player round, and the deal remains on the table, but as it stands he will not commit his future to Goodison Park, in a move that is likely to spark a transfer scramble in the summer for his services.
The Premier League's joint-leading scorer on 19 goals with Harry Kane, of Tottenham Hotspur, has made no secret of his desire to play in the Champions League and further his blossoming career.
He has two years left to run on his existing deal and Everton can still place a huge valuation on the forward, one which is reflective of his status as one of Europe's best marksmen, in an attempt to ward off potential suitors.
However, the club are attempting to upset the Premier League's natural order under majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri and keeping Lukaku is central to that strategy rather than selling him, even for a fee that could be near Paul Pogba's world-record £89 million transfer to Manchester United.
Everton blocked Lukaku from returning to former club Chelsea last summer and must decide whether they can risk adopting that hardline stance once again with a player who clearly feels his own progress is outgrowing that of Ronald Koeman's side.
United were also linked with Lukaku last year and Raiola represents Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pogba who are already at Old Trafford.
United manager Jose Mourinho was in charge of Chelsea when Lukaku left Stamford Bridge for Everton for £28milllion in 2014. However, the striker has clarified that he pleaded with the Portuguese to let him leave so that he could play regular first-team football.
Intriguingly, Everton want to bring United captain Wayne Rooney back to Goodison Park this summer, while Ibrahimovic has yet to confirm that he will remain at Old Trafford next season.
Just how Lukaku's future is played out over the coming months threatens to overshadow the remainder of the season for Everton, who were left reeling by Tuesday's turn of events.
THE TIMES, LONDON