He was ‘as staunch a defender as John Terry, but with the gracefulness of Rio Ferdinand’ – this is a direct quote from a 2015 article in the Daily Telegraph focused on John Stones and you would find many echoing similar thoughts if you scoured the internet for long enough. We are now seeing John Stones get ripped apart in the media for being too lax on the ball and for not knowing the defensive basics. The moment that sticks out to me was Paul Merson’s misguided rant on Soccer Saturday where he said that Stones was ‘shocking’ for trying to play the ball out of the back. He compared him to Tony Adams who was well known for ‘kicking the ball into row z’. With all due respect to Merson, who seems like a very nice man, that rant was probably everything that is wrong with modern football today as football has evolved since the days of 4-4-2, target men and punting into the stands whenever there is an ounce of danger. Maybe George Graham would have substituted him, but Graham’s ancient methods have no place in modern football and centre-backs don’t all need to be playing like they are managed by Tony Pulis. Those methods have value at some teams, but not for teams who are aspiring to be the best. Our very own Manchester City happen to be one of these teams aspiring to be the best, and signing someone like John Stones would be an excellent move. Not only is he English, but he is just waiting to be improved. We have the best manager in the world arriving at our doorstep in June, and he would love to work with a player boasting the qualities of John Stones.
The Martinez Effect:
Before we delve into why he’s a perfect signing for the club, it makes sense to explore why he is underperforming at Everton. On the surface it doesn’t make sense – Phil Jagielka is a reliable partner and with Gareth Barry in front of him he has one of the most unselfish and consistent players in recent Premier League history. His full-backs are also reliable enough and there is no reason he should be struggling.
In reality, the sole reason for his struggles is Roberto Martinez and it is not an exaggeration to call him one of the worst defensive coaches in Premier League history. This isn’t anything new. Before he took over at Wigan they had conceded just 45 goals in 38 games under Steve Bruce and the likes of Titus Bramble and Paul Scharner looked like solid players. Fast forward a year and the Latics had conceded 79 goals in 38 games. This eventually led to a long-term decline at Wigan and they were relegated just a few years later. The results at Everton haven’t been quite so dramatic, but it’s clear that defenders have stagnated in terms of their growth and Stones has been a victim of this. He wants to play out of the back, but Martinez’ teams play with no intensity whatsoever and Stones often has no real idea what to do when he gets the ball. Most teams will draw up patterns of where to play the ball on the edge of their own box, but Everton just seem to freestyle because Martinez prefers to organise his teams at the other end of the pitch.
Pep would immediately sort this out, and he has managed to get Serdar Tasci, a more physical and old fashioned defender, to play comfortably out of the back. Guardiola is an incredible coach who could not only help City, but also the English national team by getting his hands on John Stones. Sure, Stones deserves a little bit of flak, but it has gone completely over the top, and the bandwagoning sheep who once called him the future of England’s defence have now turned on him and have tried to paint him with the logo of being overrated.
There is a myth that English players get protected by the media, but I would seriously urge City fans not to buy into it. You only have to look at the negativity that has been aimed the way of Raheem Sterling this year to see that the English media cherish the idea of picking apart our players on the wake of a huge tournament. It’s not exclusive to City players either – Wayne Rooney of our great rivals has received a ridiculous amount of criticism for his performances this year.
John Stones really hasn’t been any worse than a lot of other top defenders in the Premier League this year, his mistakes just get magnified because of the fact he is a huge prospect. This will always be the case, but it shouldn’t blind the judgement of Txiki Begiristain as he looks to bolster City’s squad this summer. Our fans should also get behind this signing. Stones is such a talented player and the fact he is English helps fulfil those ridiculous quotas that the FA have decided to introduce in recent years. When speaking to Everton fans who watch the team every week, they all say the talent is there defensively but that Martinez has no idea how to set up a defensive unit.
Pep can make Stones world class, he has all the tools to succeed and just needs the correct coaching and the right care and attention. Scouts do not recommend players because of their passport, they recommend them because of their ability and the fact that big clubs are all chasing Stones shows he is a truly elite talent that we need to grab hold of. The media will no doubt comment on how English prices are inflated, but as fans we need to ignore these words and try to understand the context of the situation. The English media have essentially built Stones up by comparing him to Rio and Terry, two of the best defenders of the last 20 years. Stones hasn’t reached those expectations that they, the media, created, and this means he is now seen in a negative light.
Sure, he makes errors, but what 21-year-old defender doesn’t? Our very own Frenchman Eliaquim Mangala was a walking error when he first came to the club, but he looks very comfortable now as he has been fine-tuned by our coaches. Football has become such a perfectionist sport that we now seem to have no room for error. Stones is simply the victim of a silly narrative, and that is that English players are all overrated. He is an incredible talent, and Txiki should pay whatever Everton want for him as he could start for this club for years to come. He is composed, a good tackler and has enough pace to avoid being given the run around by the small technical forwards that are beginning to dominate modern football.