Boss Ronald Koeman has emphasised the importance of Everton demonstrating they are a growing force as he looks to retain the services of Romelu Lukaku for “as long as possible”.
Last week Koeman was quoted as suggesting Toffees striker Lukaku needs to play at a bigger club to fulfil his potential.
If we show - the team, the management, the club, the board - that we are growing, that we invest, that we are improving, and playing for Europe, that is the first step always for the ambition of playersRonald Koeman
The manager told Belgian newspaper HLN: “If Romelu was to play at Everton until the end of his career, I know he has left something (behind). His potential is greater and higher than Everton as a final destination.”
When asked about that on Thursday, Koeman sought to clarify his position, stressing his desire to hang on to Lukaku but also saying he thinks sticking with Everton will not be good for the Belgium international if the Merseyside outfit remain at their current “level”.
Koeman, whose side are seventh in the Premier League ahead of Saturday’s home clash with Swansea, said: “You had several headlines about what I said about different questions.
“It’s not (for me) to defend myself, because it is all about the headline you take out of context.
“But what we like to show Romelu is that we are Everton, that we grow and that we will be bigger, and that we will fight for titles.
“And if you look now at Everton, if Everton stays on this level, of course, then it’s not good that he finishes his career at the club, because it’s one of the best strikers, and he’s still 23 years old.
“(If) he stays for more years, that is not bad for his career, because he is improving, learning.
“But he is one of the better strikers that we have in the Premier League, maybe in Europe, and of course, there is a lot of interest in the player.
“Finally, the player needs to make the decision. But what I try to do is keep Romelu as long as possible in the club.”
Following plenty of speculation over the summer linking Lukaku with a move, in August Koeman said the frontman had told him he intended to stay put for “at least one more season”.
Koeman added on Thursday: “He took the decision to stay, because he had a good feeling about what was happening from the start of this season.
“If we show - the team, the management, the club, the board - that we are growing, that we invest, that we are improving, and playing for Europe, that is the first step always for the ambition of players.”
Koeman - who confirmed Leighton Baines and James McCarthy will be available this weekend having recovered from hamstring problems - also reiterated his interest in Manchester United winger Memphis Depay.
Asked about his fellow Dutchman, Koeman said: “If there is any possibility, of course I’m interested, because I already was when I was the manager of Southampton (who he left to join Everton over the summer). That’s not changed from two years ago.”
Koeman said there had not been contact between Everton and United over Depay, but added: “We need to wait and prepare ourselves and, of course, we will do some business in January.”
Meanwhile, Koeman has said he has “no problem” with Everton captain Phil Jagielka after the defender was caught up in the controversy surrounding Wayne Rooney.
Jagielka was reported to have been with England team-mate Rooney on Saturday night at The Grove hotel, with photos subsequently published - appearing to show the latter looking worse for wear - prompting a public apology from the United player.
Koeman said on Thursday: “I spoke not only about this but about other aspects of football as well with Phil this morning.
“The case of Rooney is not my problem, because he is a Manchester United player. Phil is an Everton player, but it wasn’t that big a problem for me with Phil.
“He was there and he had a drink, but it was after the match (England’s win over Scotland on Friday) and the behaviour of Phil was not bad.
“You need always to be an example for young people as a football professional, but that is my opinion in general. With Phil, there is no problem.”