Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has conceded it may take a huge fee to prise Everton defender John Stones away from Goodison Park.
The Premier League champions had a bid reported to be in the region of £20 million (€28.5m) rebuffed by the Toffees last week, with manager Roberto Martinez criticising the Blues for the way they handled their approach.
Unperturbed, Chelsea are expected to up their offer for the 21-year-old — who they view as a long-term successor to John Terry — but Mourinho knows Everton will not let him go without a fight.
“That is the market now,” Mourinho said.
“You only pay it if you want to. If you don’t want to pay it, don’t pay. It’s as simple as that.
“The market has no rules or limits from season to season.”
After the summer departures of Sylvain Distin and Antolin Alcaraz, Everton’s defensive numbers are already on the light side and Martinez has insisted he is not interested in selling any of his stars.
But Mourinho is determined to test that resolve to keep a player described by Everton chairman Bill Kenwright as “the best centre back in England”.
Mourinho said: “It’s a good market. That’s why smaller clubs, if they have interesting young English players, they use that in the right way for them,” he said.
“I don’t criticise them. They play the market for themselves. If the big clubs don’t want to go over certain limits, they have to make a decision.”
Everton failed to challenge for European football last season as they finished 11th in the Premier League table and 23 points adrift of the top four.
Chelsea defender Gary Cahill swapped Bolton for Stamford Bridge in January 2012 and he admits the lure of challenging for honours can prove persuasive when a top club comes calling.
“It’s hard to turn down, of course,” Cahill said.
“In terms of ambition, if you’re a young player in the game, 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.”
Stones could become the most expensive English defender in history if Chelsea exceed the £30m (€43m) Manchester United paid Leeds for Rio Ferdinand in 2002.
Cahill, however, believes Stones has the character to cope with the pressure.
“When you talk about being able to handle something like that, you look at their personality,” Cahill said.
“From what I have seen when I have been away with him for England, he is a genuinely nice guy, a down to earth lad.
“There is nothing ‘big-time’ about him. So for me, I’m sure he will be able to cope with the fee if it happens.”
Cahill and Stones will both have their eye on next summer’s European Championships, as the pair aim to cement a starting spot at the heart of England’s defence.
“Potentially as a player he can be a top player, not just for us but also for England,” Cahill added.
“I think England will benefit too because he will get more experience playing in the Premier League and also the Champions League.
“I’m sure he will become a bigger and better player for that.”
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