Gareth Barry’s Everton future will not be resolved until the summer despite the threat of losing him to another club, Toffees manager Roberto Martinez has said.
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Barry, 32, has become a key figure at Goodison Park since joining on a season-long loan from Manchester City in September.
The midfielder is out of contract at the Etihad Stadium in June, and Martinez is likely to face intense competition for his signature.
Barry revealed in December that he was close to joining Arsenal last summer, and the Gunners have been linked with another move for him at the end of the season.
Martinez says it is a “compliment” that rival clubs want the player, who is aiming to force his way back into the England squad ahead of the World Cup.
But even though Barry was in line to sign for Everton permanently last month -- as part of an unsuccessful bid to bring City midfielder Jack Rodwell back to Goodison Park on loan -- the Spaniard is happy to play a waiting game for now.
Martinez said: “When you get interest from other parties, or clubs looking at our players, it’s a good sign because it means the players are doing well. It means they’re enjoying their football, they’re playing well. That’s always a nice football compliment that I take with happiness.”
Asked about the possibility of opening negotiations with Barry, Martinez said: “There’s nothing to look into with that situation. That was our agreement. In the summer, we’ll sit down and there’ll be a question of what’s best for Gareth, and nothing else.”
Arsenal would be more likely to be able to offer Champions League football to Barry, as they are well placed to qualify for the competition for a 17th consecutive season.
Everton could still get there themselves, though, as they lie sixth, five points off a top-four spot, with 13 games left.
But whatever happens, Martinez is happy that Barry will give the Toffees every chance to sort out a permanent deal for him.
He said: “Gareth’s a person who has incredible human values. He needs to make football decisions. He’s enjoyed an incredible career. He’s in a position where he can choose where his football happiness is going to be.
“In the summer, he was available for other clubs and he decided to come to Everton. The agreement there is to make sure that Gareth can fulfil his potential, that he can have an important role, that he can enjoy his football, that he can be tested in different ways. We have achieved all of those.
“The most important aspect is to finish the season fully concentrating on trying to win as many games as we can to get the rewards of the good season that he’s had. For me, it doesn’t change anything. I trust him implicitly. I enjoy working with him. He’s worked on doing exactly what we set out to do in the summer.
“I still think that he’s the best English player in that position, and I’m just glad that at Everton, he’s been able to show that, at a time when it could have a massive effect for him internationally.
“It’s one of those situations where I’m glad that there’s that sort of talk, because it means Gareth has been performing really, really well and there will be other options for him. That’s something I’ve always been aware of. So I’m happy with the way it’s worked out. But I feel the best for Gareth and Everton is still to come.”