Romelu Lukaku stuns Everton with decision to reject new contract

• Striker sparks transfer scramble in bid to play Champions League football
• Lukaku turns down deal to make him best-paid player in Everton history

Romelu Lukaku is set to spark a summer transfer scramble after telling Everton he will not sign a new contract at Goodison Park. The news will be a crushing blow to Everton, who had hoped to persuade the striker to spearhead their European ambitions next season, with the backing of their majority shareholder, Farhad Moshiri.

The 23-year-old’s agent, Mino Raiola, had repeatedly insisted Lukaku would accept lucrative new terms and claimed the player had agreed “99.9%” of the £100,000-a-week deal that would have made him the best-paid player in the club’s history. Everton were informed of the striker’s intentions on Tuesday afternoon following a training session. Raiola recently said there were “no problems between the player and the club” but Ronald Koeman was more circumspect, adding: “I don’t believe agents.” The manager’s instinct appears to have been backed up by an interview Lukaku gave to Belgian television when he said signing a new deal was not on his mind.

Asked whether he was about to sign the five-year contract on offer and if talks were taking place, the striker simply replied with the word “no” in each case.

The decision is thought to be based on Lukaku’s ambition to play in the Champions League and, despite having two years left on his contract, he will push for a move this summer. There will be no shortage of bidders for the Belgian’s services.

Chelsea made an inquiry about re-signing Lukaku last summer and Manchester United are also thought to be interested in the player who has scored 19 Premier League goals this season.

United’s main summer target is thought to be Antoine Griezmann, of Atlético Madrid, although they are hopeful of persuading Zlatan Ibrahimovic to stay on for another season.

Lukaku is aware he is coveted by clubs in the Champions League. His performances suggest he could hold his own at that level but Everton have no realistic chance of cracking the top four this season and it is hard to see how the situation could change.

The way things stand, United could miss out on Champions League qualification, yet historically and financially they still remain a better bet than Everton, and certainly would be with Lukaku in their ranks.

Everton seem likely to be caught once again in the classic double bind that affects clubs on the periphery of the Champions League, that of having to sell their best players to the teams they are attempting to overtake.

The club had no official comment to make on the matter, though a Goodison insider indicated there was still much common ground between club and agent. “A deal is on the table and there is plenty of time,” he said. “There is hope all round that it will be signed.”

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