The rise of John Stones and his importance to Manchester City
Manchester City’s English centre back John Stones has had a tumultuous career. To say that he has been through a rollercoaster ride will be stating things very lightly indeed. Born in 1994, the now-26-year-old centre back spent his youth career at Barnsley before being signed by Everton in 2013. He made a total of 95 appearances for the Blues of Liverpool before being snapped by Manchester City in 2016, for whom he has made more than a hundred and fifty appearances already. His stature has grown in the current season and I see no reason why that should not be the case.
EARLY DAYS AND GROWTH
Earlier in his career, Stones was signed by Everton, who were then being managed by David Moyes for a reported 3 million pounds. In August 2014, he signed a new five-year contract at Goodison Park which was bound to keep him there till 2019. However, a spate of injuries and insignificant performances made sure that it did not exactly get fulfilled. He did, although, well enough to attract bids from all across England and Everton could not keep a tab on him indefinitely. Stones was noted for his tall and strong physique and that meant that he was promising a lot to any future employers.
Even though Everton rejected a number of bids in the range of 20 to 30 million pounds from Chelsea, they could not stop Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, fresh with the backing of their Arab investors and owners, from swooping in and bidding an astronomical 47.5 million pounds in 2016. This made Stones the world’s second most expensive defender after Brazilian David Luiz. Although manager Guardiola did not have a big say in Stones’ signing, he was made a part of the team’s central defence with Aleksandar Kolarov in the Spaniard’s first game in charge, against Sunderland.
LIFE AT THE ETIHAD STADIUM
Stones did not have a very good first season with the Cityzens in 2016–17, in which manager Guardiola failed to win a single trophy or silverware. He was seen speaking in interviews at the end of the year about how disappointed he was after his big move to Manchester but he also underlined his deep desire to improve. Manager Guardiola had already taken a liking to Stones and it showed in his protege’s commitment. The latter was a part of most of Manchester City’s starting elevens and his requirements were deemed to be necessary and very important to the Blues from Manchester.
Stones has been known for his eye for goal and he showed it to the fans of Manchester City when he scored a brace in his side’s 4–0 win over Feyenoord away from home in a UEFA Champions League fixture. He followed that up against Napoli later in the season, which ensured that his team went through to the round of sixteen stage even with a couple of games remaining. He made only 18 appearances in the Premier League that season though, but ended it with five goals in all competitions combined. Stones’ graph was rising and it was there for everyone to see.
He continued his strong performances in the 2018–19 season in which he made 24 Premier League appearances, which is a big number given how much manager Guardiola likes to rotate his squad. He made six appearances in Europe though, and it was sheerly due to the physical presence he provided to his fellow teammates. Stones is also a good ball-playing defender and he likes to move forward whenever the occasion demands. Although this season ended with Manchester City winning the Premier League title, he was not in the best forms of his life.
THE STRUGGLES IN BETWEEN
In the next season, however, Stones suffered from serious muscle injury in training. This was after he had suffered from a hamstring injury in the previous season, which had ruled him out for the next six weeks. In fact, there were a lot of rumours going around at the time which said that manager Guardiola was looking to offload the defender, and the latter had to vehemently deny them in press conferences during the international break. Stones, however, was soon to become the subject of many controversies regarding his fitness and Guardiola, on his part, did his best to shield the former from the hounds of the media.
He was named in England’s squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and proved to be a valuable member of the eventual fourth placed side. He even scored a couple of goals for his country against Panama in England’s 6–1 victory in the opening stages of the tournament. This just reiterated the fact that his eye for goal was still intact and it was not going anywhere even though his form for Manchester City had not been at its best and that he was far from hitting a purple patch at that moment. However, his national manager Gareth Southgate believed in him.
What followed for Stones in the 2019–20 season was a tale straight from his worst nightmares. He could only make 16 appearances in the Premier League due to injury and set out for his club in the UEFA Champions League on just one occasion. This was probably the lowest phase of his career and all credit is due to him for not quitting and keeping going. Injuries have always been a part of a footballer’s life, even more so for a defender, but it seemed as if Stones had had the worst of luck.
TURNAROUND IN THE 2020–21 SEASON
However, it has to be said that Stones’ luck has turned around, if not completely, then partially, in the ongoing 2020–21 football season. He has made twenty appearances for Manchester City in the Premier League, which is a very high number given how much Guardiola dislikes playing the same starting eleven over and over again (as we have stated above.) He has bagged four goals in these 20 appearances so far, which means that his eye for goal and strong heading ability from set pieces delivered by the magical Kevin de Bruyne has not withered away at all.
Essentially, what has changed for Stones in the ongoing season is that he has found a lot of confidence being paired at the back with new signing Ruben Dias, who arrived from Benfica in the summer transfer window. Dias is a technically gifted and physically strong centre back and he has complemented Stones’ growth tremendously. The Portuguese has become a fan favourite at the Etihad Stadium right away and has taken Stones along with him for this joy ride. Manager Guardiola has more often than not chosen to go with Stones and Dias at the heart of City’s defence, and the pair has not let him down.
It is understandable that Dias’ presence alongside him at the heart of City’s defence has improved Stones’ confidence. After all, famous and great centre backs have hunted in pairs and it is their partnerships that has won them plaudits throughout the footballing world- be it Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, Thiago Silva and Marquinhos, John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho, Georgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol, Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos; the list is endless. Therefore, it is no surprise that Stones has come into this own by having Dias as his partner.
Stones has been fantastic throughout this campaign and barring the recent result against Aston Villa where he was sent off, the Englishman has done his manager Guardiola proud on most occasions. Probably his best performance of the season came against Crystal Palace on 17 January 2021 in which he bagged a brace as well as managed to keep a clean sheet. His technical prowess was appreciated by everyone. Top showings against West Bromwich Albion away and West Ham United at home were also on the cards for him. This meant that he was not just a one-off wonder.
In the UEFA Champions League competition as well, Stones’ performances have been noteworthy. He was solid at the back in City’s round of sixteen second leg clash with Borussia M’gladbach where he managed to keep a clean sheet. He was on point against Borussia Dortmund in both the legs of the quarterfinals as well, and managed to go without making any serious errors which would have cost his team dear. To defend against the likes of Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham must have been a big challenge but Stones managed to do well. Against Paris Saint Germain in the first leg of their semi final clash too Stones did not flinch. Although he could not keep a clean sheet, his performance was exquisite. If you are interested in learning more about the latest news and statistics of the latest matches, then I suggest you visit this website.
Stones has been renowned for his composure on the ball as well as his vision and range of technical abilities. All of this has meant that manager Guardiola deployed him as a central defensive midfielder in this campaign too. Stones is an incredibly talented footballer whose best days lie ahead of him and I am sure that we are going to see a lot of him in the coming days.