To football purists, John Stones is the absolute embodiment of what you want from a ball-playing centre-half.
Composed in possession, confident in his ability to play his way out of trouble and the technique of a midfield player, Stones is cut from a modern cloth of how to defend.
Yet for every spectator who applauds this exuberant style, there is one who finds the Stones method unnecessary and overly complicated. Still the perception remains in this country in some corners that so long as a defender can head and kick a ball with considerable distance they fit the criteria.
Strictly speaking, keeping the ball as far away from your own goal as possible does quantify a defender doing their job effectively, yet the modern game requires more to be considered one of the elite in your position.
At Everton, Stones was undoubtedly a victim of a Roberto Martinez tenure where it seemed any sort of defensive work was neglected by the Spaniard in training. Dave Watson, former Everton captain, explained: “His training is based on a lot of attacking drills – everything is about scoring goals and creating chances.”
As such, Stones essentially went from being known as a defender first who could play a bit, to a defender whose priorities lied in possession over without it.
We’ve been here before in England with Rio Ferdinand, the last notable defender to have a similar classy aura, such as Stones. Everybody seems to love the idea of a ball-playing centre-back, but when put into practise we can’t shirk the constant tension and risk of losing possession in vital areas.
It’s an age-old English mentality and one of a number of issues with this country’s football culture. Enter – possibly – Pep Guardiola.
As soon as Guardiola came to Manchester City and William Hill tipped them to win the league, the links between himself holding an interest in Stones were almost inevitable, with the former Barnsley man fitting the complete criteria of what the Spaniard looks for in a defender. The fact he is willing to spend £50m to acquire Stones – albeit at a club with bottomless, Sheikh pockets – tells you just how highly Guardiola rates the 22-year-old.
One can’t help but feel this is a match made in heaven. Stones will finally be given the opportunity to develop under a manager who will teach him the art of defending, as well as encouraging him to utilise his talent on the ball.
Guardiola’s training sessions are renowned for being of the highest order and Stones can learn exponentially in what we perceive will be a winning squad and mentality at the Etihad this term. As much as Ronald Koeman’s arrival has helped lift the dark cloud hanging over Everton, Stones was one of the players whose performances were heavily scrutinised by the Goodison Park faithful and may now benefit from a fresh environment.
One trait Stones possesses which so few of his international colleagues share is a footballing identity. For years the England team have been lamented for a lack of identity or philosophy – something Sam Allardyce has already stated he is eager to establish – and as such, the defender should play a vital role in the international setup for years to come.
Gerard Pique, Jerome Boateng and David Alaba have all benefited fourfold from working with Guardiola at club level, all establishing themselves as world-class players in their field.
He may have gone off the boil somewhat last season, but Stones remains one of the hottest prospects in Europe. If he was Spanish and named Jonathan Stonás, he would be lauded for his bravery and ability with the ball.
Stones remains a player whose ceiling could help him rise to the very top and Guardiola is the perfect coach to make it happen.
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