Everton could face having to pay more than £5m in compensation if they choose to lure a manager from one of their rivals as the successor to David Moyes.
The former Fulham manager and ex-Everton player Mark Hughes, who is out of work, signalled his interest in the forthcoming vacancy.
Malky Mackay, in charge at newly promoted Cardiff City; Swansea's Michael Laudrup (right) and Roberto Martinez at Wigan are also strong contenders, but would come at a significant cost.
Swansea could look for as much as £10m if Everton tried to poach their manager and Everton chairman Bill Kenwright has been warned off by his counterparts at Wigan and Swansea.
Any finalised compensation figure would be the result of negotiation and is likely to be considerably lower than any initial figures being floated, but it is clear that Kenwright is set for a tough battle if his club go for a manager already in a job.
Whelan said: "It's a case of, would Roberto choose to go to Everton or would he wait for one of the really big clubs? I'm not degrading Everton in any way, shape or form – they're a great club with great supporters – but is Everton regarded as one of the top European clubs? Well, unfortunately they're not."
Martinez was non-committal on the possibility of a move, saying he was concentrating only on Wigan until the end of the season.
Kenwright indicated the search for a replacement was not advanced. "I made an instant decision when I met David – I don't think that can happen this time," he said. "We have got to be out there looking to see what kind of candidates can take the club forward. It is my job to build on what David brought." (© Independent News Service)