John Stones: A player reborn at the World Cup
John Stones' relatively young career has been remarkably successful. The England international is only 24. He has played in the Champions League, won the Premier League and the League Cup. More recently, he has helped his country reach a World Cup semifinal for the first time since 1990. Some players can only dream.
If you think winning the Premier League is not such a big deal, talk to Steven Gerrard. Jamie Vardy can also tell you a thing or two about how life-changing it can be. Stones won it with Manchester City last season when he was only 23. With Pep Guardiola in charge, that may just be the beginning.
This is a far cry from his early days at home club Barnsley. After impressing Everton who brought him to the Goodison Park in 2013, the young defender put up top-notch performances that drew admiration from far and wide. He was nominated for the 2014 Golden Boy Award. From there, it was only a matter of when not if he would leave for a bigger club.
The first in line to lure him away was Chelsea. The Blues needed a long-term replacement for outgoing club legend, John Terry. The Toffees resisted all advances for their prized possession.
When Guardiola took over at Man City in 2016, Stones became a primary target. Everton had no chance. He finally moved to join the Catalan at the Etihad Stadium.
His two years at the club haven’t been all rosy, however. Stones' performances have been a mixed bag. High-profile errors and loss of form confined him to a limited role in the close season. He made only 18 appearances in the Premier League during City's title run.
In a season that was not the best for English centre-backs, with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Gary Cahill all struggling, Stones made the list to Russia. Gareth Southgate preferred the 24-year-old as Harry Maguire's partner. He has rewarded his manager with sterling performances. The English team has been solid at the back thanks to the duo’s defensive work
But they have not just done their job at the back. They have also gone forward to help the team with goals. Stones scored a brace in the match against Panama while Maguire scored one against Sweden.
With England now in the semi-final, Stones has proven reliable. The Three Lions do not have a defensive problem. His club manager will expect that to continue.
Nicolas Otamendi is 30, Vincent Kompany 32. The former Everton man is Man City’s future in defence.
Guardiola has some unfinished business at the Etihad Stadium. He is expected to bring home the Champions League trophy. Stones will have a huge role to play. If he repays his manager at the club with the same superlative performances he has put up at the World Cup, next season may be even better for the Citizens than the last.