Barcelona centre-back Thomas Vermaelen has suggested that he could leave the Nou Camp during the upcoming January transfer window after the La Liga giants blocked his departure in the summer. Everton and other European clubs were linked with his services but the Belgium international says that Ernesto Valverde asked him to stay due to the shortage of options at his disposal.
The 31-year-old defender joined Barcelona from Arsenal in the summer of 2014 in order to fill the huge gap left by the retirement of Carles Puyol.
However, the Belgium international managed just 21 games for the La Liga giants during his first two seasons after being hit by different injury problems.
Barcelona were expected to part ways with him in the summer after the defender also struggled to replicate his best form during a disappointing loan spell at AS Roma.
Ronald Koeman was said to be ready to take advantage of the situation and try lure him to Everton after the Dutch boss handed Vermaelen his senior debut at Ajax over a decade ago.
However, Vermaelen was eventually forced to stay at Barcelona following the departures of Jeremy Mathieu and Marlon Santos.
"The board told me that they needed to have four centre-backs so I had no choice but to stay. Clubs tried [to sign me] until the last day, like Everton, but it was impossible, I was not able to negotiate," Vermalen confirmed to DH.BE.
"Unfortunately, my release clause is very expensive [€80m (£71.3m, $93.9m, according to the reporter]. Who would pay that?"
Vermaelen is yet to play a single minute in the opening part of the season as Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti and Javier Mascherano are all ahead of him in Ernesto Valverde's pecking order.
The former Arsenal star suggests that he could be playing somewhere else in the second part of the season in order to increase his chances of playing in the 2018 World Cup with Belgium.
"The national team boss [Roberto Martinez] says that the lack of playing time is not a problem at the moment but that he would take it into account from March onwards, when we will be close to the tournament. Who can predict if I will be still not playing at that time? Or if I haven't left the club during January transfer window?" Vermalaen said from the Belgium camp ahead of a World Cup qualifier against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
"I do exercises on my own in addition to training but I have to be careful not to do too much. I would like to play with the reserves but this is not possible in Spain due to the Spanish legislation [Barcelona B play in the second division of the Spanish football]. It's a shame but I console myself by telling myself that I can face very big players every day. The rhythm is high in training."
Ernesto Valverde blocked his departure in the summer because he only had three other centre-backs available in the form of Pique, Umtiti and Mascherano.
However, the situation could change in January amid reports linking Barcelona with a move for Colombian defender Yerry Mina.
The Catalans have been linked with the 23-year-old centre-back for some time and have a first refusal to sign him in a deal worth around €9m.
There are still some doubts over whether the club will activate that option in January or in the summer.
But Mundo Deportivo recently suggested that Barcelona could bring forward his proposed move from Palmeiras to January with Vermalaen having been deemed surplus to requirements by Valverde.