NEW YORK • Chelsea's fractious relationship with Everton deteriorated on Wednesday, after Gary Cahill urged John Stones to "grab with both hands" the chance to move.
The England defender's willingness to welcome a potential rival to Stamford Bridge reflects well on him as a competitor and selfless club man. But it went down badly with Everton, who have been angered by Chelsea's conduct throughout what is threatening to turn into a protracted saga.
Everton believe that Chelsea are orchestrating a deliberate media campaign to unsettle Stones, with Cahill's comments following repeated discussion of the subject by manager Jose Mourinho.
The latter on Tuesday suggested his employers are willing to pay more than £30 million (S$64 million) to secure Stones' signature.
Chelsea had an opening bid of £26 million rejected last week but have made it clear they are prepared to go far higher.
Everton's position remains that Stones is not for sale at any price, which they claim they made clear to Chelsea in a letter written last week, although that is disputed at Stamford Bridge.
Roberto Martínez's fury at Mourinho's public courting of a key Everton player is not in doubt, however, and the Spaniard's anger increased after Cahill's remarks.
Cahill urged Stones to take inspiration from his career path after he left Bolton Wanderers for Chelsea in January 2012 and won the Champions League five months later.
"In terms of ambition, if you're a young player, have played in the Premier League like he did a lot last year, and a big club come calling, it's very difficult to turn down because you want to achieve the most you can in the short period you have in your career as a professional footballer," he said.
"When a top club comes calling, whom you know will be firing on all fronts with competitions and medals, that's ultimately who you want to be playing for."
Bill Kenwright, the Everton chairman, reaffirmed on Wednesday the club's determination to hold on to Stones by describing him as the best centre-back in the country.
However, his comments could also be interpreted as an attempt to secure the highest possible fee for a player who cost them £3 million from Barnsley in 2013.
Meanwhile, Mourinho sprung to the defence of new goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. The Bosnian conceded four goals against the New York Red Bulls, after coming on as a half-time substitute in a friendly.
He was introduced with the English champions 1-0 ahead in New Jersey on Wednesday. But Chelsea ended up losing 2-4 in the first game of their three-match tour of North America.
"He was very tired, the same as (first choice) Thibaut Courtois. Then, the coordination is low, the agility doesn't exist and the speed of reaction doesn't exist," Mourinho said. "Courtois made a mistake in the first half. Begovic in the second half was not sharp in his reactions but it's a consequence of being tired from training.
"I'm so happy to have him and in the next game against PSG (Paris St Germain), he will start. There's no problem, it's just a process."
THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS