The workhorse who became a thoroughbred
JOHN STONES’ sliding doors moment came 10 years ago.
Now, he may not know this, but it took place during a recruitment meeting at Everton on transfer deadline day in January 2013.
The Toffees had £3million to spend and David Moyes (below) was dithering over whether to trump Wigan Athletic for his signature.
It was a gamble that the Scot wouldn’t have taken had the resources at his disposal been greater. The teenager from Barnsley was considered too weak to play in the Premier League at centre-half.
Could he do it at right-back?
Discussion flowed back and forth until a voice from the floor said: ‘If we don’t go ahead, do we get the money to spend in the summer?’
Moyes answered the question with a smile and a choice phrase, finally dialling the numbers to set the wheels in motion.
It’s taken those 10 years but this week I was mulling over my Premier League XI for the season. Stones has to be in it.
Perhaps it’s the prevalence of foreign stars in the Premier League and it’s taken some time for the fledgling to come of age.
But he’s now a thoroughbred. It was Stones’ passing ability and calmness on the ball that marked him down for stardom during those early days.
Moyes’s successor, Roberto Martinez, perhaps indulged the stopper on occasion. For every game he played, it always appeared he had an error in him.
He didn’t sense danger particularly well. But the raw ingredients were there.
It’s taken seven seasons under Pep Guardiola but he’s developed from being a clever defender – perhaps too clever for his own good on occasion – into a proper one. Off-the-pitch problems – he split from his longterm girlfriend while at Manchester City – aren’t always seen in public, but do have an effect.
But even under Pep Guardiola, it appeared he wasn’t the finished article. I know this is harsh but he switched off for one-millisecond during the World Cup semi-final against Croatia in Russia and that was all the time Mario Mandzukic needed to end yet another dream for our nation.
We’re now five years further on. Stones, 28, has Champions League, World Cup and European Championship experience. He has 66 caps for England.
But he has developed into a defender that his manager can finally trust.
It hasn’t always been this way. Speaking to a friend in the game this week, he pointed out that Rio
Ferdinand’s best football for Manchester United came when he reached the age that Stones is now.
He was always quick and strong, was Rio. But he learnt and he was – by miles – a better player for all that experience as he approached his 30s.
A succession of imports have arrived to challenge and, one by one, they are now falling by the wayside. Aymeric Laporte is likely to leave – yes, I know he’s left-footed, but he’s still a centre-back.
Kyle Walker has also fallen victim to Guardiola’s tinkering of late – when Stones’ passing ability ensured he would be chosen for this hybrid defender-cummidfielder position that Oleksandr Zinchenko performs so well for Arsenal now on the left.
There are likely to be a few changes at City this summer – regardless of whether or not they lift the Treble.
But don’t expect Stones to be one of them.
It has taken seven Pep seasons under Guardiola but Stones developed from has defender being a clever into a proper one