City star strug­gled after his £50M move but he’s now show­ing his true class – and his cool head has South­gate purring

Daily Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - SPORT - BY ANDY DUNN Chief Sports Writer

JOHN STONES ad­mits he had to take a “good look” at him­self dur­ing a dif­fi­cult first sea­son at Manch­ester City.

Stones came un­der in­tense scru­tiny as a sprin­kling of er­rors char­ac­terised an in­con­sis­tent start at the Eti­had.

After sign­ing for just short of £50mil­lion, Stones had to cope with ev­ery one of his mis­takes be­ing mag­ni­fied, es­pe­cially as he has been held up as a fu­ture Eng­land cap­tain for some time.

He lost his sta­tus as an au­to­matic Pep Guardi­ola choice, but has been in im­pres­sive form this sea­son and has started 10 of City’s 11 Pre­mier League games.

Stones, who is in the first XI against Ger­many tonight, be­lieves he is still on a steep learn­ing curve.

He said: “You’ve seen a dif­fer­ent me. That’s through the hard work of last sea­son, pre-sea­son and try­ing to bring that into this sea­son.

“I’ve had to take dips and have a good look at my­self. You’ve got to look at your­self after ev­ery game. There were never any re­ally mas­sive lows. It was al­ways me, per­son­ally, know­ing that I’d let my­self down in things I’d done.

“It might be a small thing, los­ing a pass, which any player takes to heart.

“But there’s al­ways some­thing I can learn and com­ing here gives me a dif­fer­ent in­sight, too.

“The man­ager here might say dif­fer­ent things, things I’m not notic­ing at my club. So it’s a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge.”

It is a chal­lenge that he will have for a long time, with South­gate mak­ing it clear Stones is THE fu­ture of English de­fend­ing.

The Eng­land man­ager could not have been more ef­fu­sive in his praise of the 23-year-old, say­ing: “He has as much com­po­sure as any de­fender I’ve seen in Europe.

“I saw Jerome Boateng at Manch­ester City when he was a kid and no­body would have pre­dicted him go­ing on to do what he has done.

“I saw Gerard Pique at Mid­dles­brough when he was play­ing for Man United and he was at fault for a cou­ple of the goals.

“You never would have seen him be­ing where he was a cou­ple of years later.

“And John has at­tributes that those guys have. He has pres­ence in the op­po­si­tion penalty box now, he has the mind­set that he wants to learn and im­prove.

“He’s got a re­ally bright fu­ture and he’s the type of de­fender we want play­ing for our coun­try.”

Ahead of the Ger­many game, he brought Stones to the pre-match press con­fer­ence, prompt­ing spec­u­la­tion he could skip­per the side.

“Sorry, no he’s not,” said South­gate, wrap­ping an arm around him. It might not be too far off, though.

TOUGH LOVE Pep looks fu­ri­ous with Stones af­ter City lose to Monaco last sea­son – but his part in Septem­ber’s de­feat of Chelsea de­lights both his bosses

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