Since Stones first signed for City, I’ve always felt a need to defend him from the barrage of criticism he’s always received.
I was there for Stonesy’s debut in 2016 against Sunderland and have rarely missed a live game since then, I thought I was observing a defender who would be manifested into a world class centre back by our resident Catalonian. In a season where the “Pep revolution” took place, we just about scraped a Champions League place, but Stones’ illustrated qualities of a pioneering modern centre back shone during that season. The citizen’s silver lining. He was consistently cool, calm and collected.
Despite that, the innovative nature of his play quickly became coupled with how he would make a mistake a game. For a long time I blamed those mistakes on his teammates’ ineptitude; which was arguably fair considering the frequent incompetence of Otamendi, but it delves further than that. Simply put; a myriad of mistakes Stones often made rested solely on the shoulders of his partnering centre back, frequently making an earlier mistake – which placed Stones in a formidable defensive position. Whereas when he played alongside Kompany, he exerted reliable defensive qualities and applied an overall positive mentality throughout his defensive colleagues. Meaning when City played it out from the back, they could liaise with the midfield to start a potential attack.
It only seemed like a matter of time until he hit his stride continuously.
He performed superbly for England in the World Cup, forming a beautiful partnership with Maguire – both exceptional throughout. Since then, he’s been below par in most of the international games in which Stones has played.
My initial thoughts were that the Yorkshireman struggled to adapt to the style of play Guardiola instilled in him at City, when called up for England. His countrymen weren’t at the high standard he was used to. No Fernandinho, De Bruyne or Silva etc who at club level dropped deep to receive passes.
In hindsight, I clearly used to watch England through blue tinted glasses regarding John Stones. I frequently concluded it was those around him that were not good enough, not him.
That was so wrong though, the mistakes he’s frequently made were down to his inability to readjust. Panicking occurred when his usual elite level club mates weren’t there to bail him out of trouble. Being almost too arrogant to boot the football away whilst under pressure.
Depressingly, it appears it is not just my opinion of Stones that has changed. Parallel to my thoughts, Pep Guardiola undoubtedly has also lost faith in our ex-Everton centre half. The Barnsley born defender has clearly fallen out of favour in recent times, even when he’s actually match fit, which isn’t that often. Even if his injuries are out of his control in all fairness, but still it is undeniable how much of an effect his frequent injuries will have in terms of inhibiting his career.
For a long time I thought John Stones might eventually captain City and England, that thought now seems a distant memory. An abundance of changes are needed to Stones’ game if he wants to stay at City, however it seems like it might be too late. Are we going to see another potential world class English player fade away, or will he rise up to what was once expected of him?