But he can’t defend, right? That’s all that anyone seems to have said about the big money transfer of Everton defender John Stones to Manchester City. It’s as if that English football fans are unwilling to accept that they have one of the finest young central defenders on the planet.
Stones is the rarest of English footballers. If he had come through the system in Spain or Germany, rather than the unglamorous Yorkshire town of Barnsley, then he would be cherished far more. He would already be starting for a team like Barcelona, a team willing to nurture his unique talents.
In England though, Stones seems to be greeted with an unfair level of suspicion. His mistakes, the sort of mistakes that all young defenders will make, always seem to be put down to his unwillingness to ‘put his foot through the ball’ and ‘stop dicking about with it’.
There were times last season when fantastic examples of playing the ball out of trouble were greeted with groans from the Everton supporters. Stones even had to tell them to chill out at one point. It’s as if he’s constantly having to carry that stupid England lion thing from the Euros around on his back.
— Bluekipper.com (@bluekippercom) June 10, 2016
Thankfully, Stones now has a mentor who can develop him into the defender that he should become. Pep Guardiola will have taken one look at Stones, one look at his ability on the ball and turn of pace, and decided that he is perfect for the system that he wants to develop at Manchester City.
People seem to forget that Stones is 22 years old. He’s an absolute baby for a central defender. At the same age, Gerard Pique had just returned to Barcelona from Manchester United having been unable to convince Sir Alex Ferguson of his talents. Leonardo Bonucci had fallen to minnows Bari in a bid to prove himself after failing to make the grade at Inter Milan. With approaching 100 Premier League appearances to his name, Stones has a fine grounding for a young footballer.
Stones has a lot of work to do if he is to become as good as either Pique or Bonucci, but the idea that it is impossible because he makes mistakes at such a young age is completely unfair. It’s symptomatic of English football’s tendency to knock its best young talents back down, to view natural talent with suspicion and a turned nose. We can call it the Paul Merson disease.
At a club with a continental set-up and a cosmpolitan outlook, Stones is now in the right environment to get away from the haters and turn himself into the finest English defender of his generation and their first genuine, world class ball-playing centre back of the modern era. He deserves the support of all of us in this, not just Pep Guardiola.