The news that reached Evertonians on Tuesday afternoon was the news that everyone associated with the Toffees had been dreading.
The handing in of a transfer request by young centre back John Stones – who has been the subject of vast speculation throughout the course of the summer transfer window, thanks in no small part to Chelsea’s unrelenting pursuit of the 21 year old – left supporters of the Goodison Park based club shocked, angered, dismayed, distraught and offended.
That Stones has left it this late, with less than a week of the current transfer window left open, is reason enough for many to call into question their fealty to the sport of football as a whole.
And yet, Stones’ decision to leave Merseyside isn’t just an indictment of modern football, though it is not aided by the media circus that dominates such occasions.
It is an indictment of football as a whole since its inception.
Richer clubs have always bought the best players from other clubs, because it’s how those richer clubs stay on top and, in turn, weaken their rivals.
Everton themselves and Liverpool did so in the 1980s, Manchester United in the 1990s, and now it is the turn of Chelsea and Manchester City – in England at least – to pluck the very best talent from across the globe to bring to the Barclays Premier League.
The argument remains, of course, that Stones naturally wants to play at the highest level, winning copious amounts of silverware and playing alongside some of the best footballers in the world in the process. That is a given.
But for football fans, no club is more important than their own.
Evertonians are no different. Everton supporters want the best, most talented players to see their club challenge for success, and to finish in the very highest of echelons in each competition they participate in.
The sale of Stones would once again throw realism into the equation and confirm that football clubs like Everton are inevitably swimming against the tide. That any and all attempts to achieve some success will be thwarted when other clubs circle around their most gifted players.
There are many parties who could be held accountable for this sorry saga.
The blame could be placed at the feet of Stones, who has left Everton in the lurch by handing in said request just one week before the close of the window. Or at the feet of the board, whose inability to suuply manager Roberto Martinez with substantial funds – Romelu Lukaku aside – to push on after Everton finished fifth in 2013/14 with a record Premier League points total. Or at Martinez himself, who failed to get the best out of the Blues’ best first team squad in nigh on 28 years.
Outside of the club, fans could blame the national media, whose dogged daily interest in this story has whipped up a mass frenzy. Or Chelsea, who leaked their opening offer in the first place, and since then have used every trick in the book to unsettle one of Everton’s brightest young starlets.
Where the blame lies doesn’t matter, however. What matters is the never-ending cyclical nature of the best players eventually being bought by the top clubs, and preventing other teams from remotely competing.
And that is the most disheartening reality of all.