Everton manager Ronald Koeman has not yet given up on keeping the club’s star striker Romelu Lukaku, praising the striker as a “really good professional” who he wants to see stay at the club for at least another season.
Lukaku shocked Everton when he rejected the club’s offer of a lucrative new contract and reiterated his desire to play in the Champions League – a competition Everton last featured in back in 2005.
Koeman told Lukaku to “respect your contract” shortly after the player’s decision became public, and has again claimed he has little interest in selling the 23-year-old.
“Remember, he has two years left on his contract,” Koeman told the Mirror. “If it was up to me I would keep him for next season at least.”
The Dutchman has also praised Lukaku’s mentality and insisted that the forward, who is currently the Premier League’s top scorer, remains completely committed to the team.
“He is a really good professional,” Koeman added.
“I know him well, he has shown his commitment every single day.
“I know he is really committed to the club and to the team. What will happen in the future, nobody knows.”
Everton return to Premier League action with a Merseyside derby against Everton on Saturday, knowing that if they succeed an unlikely pursuit of a top-four finish might start to be taken seriously.
Spurred on by Lukaku's goals, Koeman's side have closed steadily on the battle for Champions and Europa League qualification and victory in Saturday's early kickoff at Anfield would, temporarily at least, lift them into fifth spot.
Defeat, on the other hand, would leave them isolated in seventh and struggling to catch the teams above them.
Koeman is however confident and believes his team are completely transformed from the side he inherited at the start of the season.
“We are really in a good direction,” he added.
"The team is stronger and we make good steps. There are a lot of reasons to be positive and I see the difference now compared to the mood from the beginning of the season and that’s what we like.”
Additional reporting by Reuters.