NICK BARMBY stunned Everton last night by revealing his heart is set on a move to arch rivals Liverpool.
The sensational decision is set to spark one of the most controversial transfers ever on Merseyside.
But Liverpool have been warned they will not sign the 26-year-old on the cheap and Everton are likely to demand a fee of at least £8million.
Barmby has been immediately transfer-listed and played his last game for the Blues - while he also runs the risk of sparking outrage from angry Evertonians who until just a few weeks ago had idolised him.
Everton's record-signing informed shell-shocked manager Walter Smith of his career plans yesterday by confirming he would not be signing a new five-year contract worth £27,000-a-week to remain at Goodison Park and become the highest paid player in the club's history.
It emerged last night that Barmby had spent the whole day with Kenwright in London on Wednesday which raised hopes that he would in fact agree a new deal, only to dash those hours later. However, it is the bombshell that he wants to move to Anfield and play for the club he supported as a boy that has left Everton officials stunned.
"The player has indicated to me that the club he would like to move to would be Liverpool," said Smith, who tried to persuade the star to agree a new deal during talks with Everton owner Bill Kenwright on Tuesday.
Big-spending Chelsea have also enquired about Barmby, but he has told Smith he has no desire to return to London where he started his career with Tottenham Hotspur before moving to Middlesbrough.
A disappointed Smith continued: "Following discussions between myself, Bill Kenwright, the player and his agent, Nick Barmby has indicated his desire to leave Everton.
"Obviously with a year of his contract to go this leaves the club in an awkward position.
"We have made every attempt to retain the player's services, but after a number of meetings the player eventually indicated that he would like to leave the club.
"Obviously the decision was a disappointment to everybody at Everton but is one that most clubs have to live with at the present moment and this is something we will just have to live with ourselves. It leaves a situation which is an impossible one for both parties. I don't think it is possible for a player having turned down a contract to be fully committed in his last year. It is obvious then that it would be beneficial for the player to move to another club."
He added: "The player has indicated to me that the club he would like to move to is Liverpool, a club who have already made enquiries about the availability of the player. Now that discussions between Everton and Nick have fallen through we must wait for an approach from Liverpool to see where we go from here.
"From the club's point of view we have placed Nick on the transfer list with immediate effect due to the fact that although he wishes to join Liverpool there is always the possibility that we might not reach agreement with that club."
Barmby's decision to quit Everton was not unexpected, but to publicly express his desire to move across Stanley Park was unforeseen and also remarkably honest.
A number of players in the history of the two clubs have directly swapped sides, including Dave Hickson and Peter Beardsley, but his would be by far the most expensive and most high-profile defection.
Former Everton Shareholders' Association spokesman Tony Tighe said: "The fans will never forgive him for this.
"His career was in the doldrums for three years after he came here but we stood by him and kick-started his career. Now he has kicked us in the teeth by saying he wants to move across the park.
"That will hurt the supporters deeply and he'll never be welcome at Everton again.
"I had ordered a Barmby number eight shirt in our new kit for my young son to be collected on July 1st but I will now cancel it."
Barmby is represented by the agent Struan Marshall, of the all-powerful SFX Group, who also looks after the interests of a number of Liverpool players including Emile Heskey, Gary McAllister, Steven Gerrard, Dominic Matteo and Jamie Carragher.
With the player having sacrificed a position of strength by declaring his hand, the onus is now on Liverpool to follow up their interest in the Euro 2000 ace and it is understood they would be prepared to pay Barmby between £30-35,000-a-week.
The stumbling block to the conclusion of a swift deal will be the two clubs agreeing a fee.
Everton are adamant they want to recoup the £5.75m they paid Boro in 1996 and because the would-be buyers are Liverpool they will also seek a premium on top of that.
Liverpool would value Barmby nearer £4m - principally because he has just 12-months remaining on his existing contract and they could recruit him for nothing under the Bosman ruling at the end of the forthcoming season.
Everton - in a move which would be backed by deputy chairman Kenwright who implored Kevin Keegan to resurrect Barmby's England career in a private correspondence at the end of last season - are understood to be prepared to freeze the player out for 12-months, condemning him to reserve football and pay him his annual salary of £750,000 rather than accept a cut-price offer.
That would hinder Barmby's international hopes just as he has stepped out of one wilderness.
© Liverpool Daily Post & Echo