John Stones 22 Defender Manchester City England
English football’s great defensive hope for the last three years, this summer was the one where he got the move to back up the column inches. Famously good on the ball, famously has an eye for a pass, and famously will be England’s centre-back, captain and blueprint for the future for the next 10 years.
No pressure, then…
2016 has been…
…not as good as some will tell you, nowhere near as bad as others say, in truth it’s been about par. The trouble is that ‘par’ for Stones is below where some are setting the bar, and that’s not necessarily his fault.
Yes, John Stones sometimes should play the percentages rather than take the unnecessary risk. Yes, John Stones sometimes should work on his positioning as too often he gets caught in a place where his pace can’t get him out of trouble. Yes, John Stones is not Gerard Piqué or Jerome Boateng. Yes, you’re right, he’s not the perfect central defender.
It’s tough to be John Stones. Held up as both a vision of where we want English football to be and a sign that we’re nowhere near good enough, there is a huge section of the media and football fans alike that forget he’s 22. He’s playing in the area of the pitch where more than any other experience is key. At Everton he had reached the point where he looked like he needed the move to kick on, Man City paid a reported £48m to enable him to do it.
So this year he has made progress by virtue of the transfer alone. In truth his form hasn’t been sparkling (but not disastrous either despite what some would have you believe) but the learning curve he’s on is exactly where he needs to be right now, and for that we should all cut him some slack.
There needs to be patience, as with most young players, but with John Stones more than most. Huge price tag, difficult position, regular high profile performances, new manager changing how the team plays - these are all caveats for the moments that make you grimace.
He is now one of England’s first choice centre-backs, he is now at a Champions League club playing for one of football’s truly great managers. These are reasons to be cheerful and not sneer. The end of last season was stodgy as he knew the move was coming, the start of this one has been difficult as he’s learning half of what he’s been coached to this point is now redundant. Progress is slow but sure-footed, the mistakes will be ironed out his game eventually.
We’re not going to load the pressure more, we have no idea if Stones is the future or not. Rio Ferdinand was excellent on the ball but needed time to develop. Ledley King was excellent on the ball but needed time to develop. John Terry was excellent on the ball but needed time to develop. Hell, even Pique and Boateng were excellent on the ball but needed time to develop. Get the picture? Good, now go and have a Jaffa Cake and let this young man learn his trade properly.
C The grade represents a year of progression and that’s enough, get off his back, ‘kay?
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