Michael Owen claims England defender John Stones would 'walk into the Barcelona team'
Ahead of Euro 2016 that is set to kick off in France next weekend, England’s hopes rest on a squad with a rich mixture of youth and senior players. While experience is usually the key to nailing a spot in the starting lineup, especially at the back, Michael Owen has full confidence in one particular youngster – John Stones.
Roy Hodgson picked only three centre-backs when the final 23-man England squad was announced earlier this week. And most fans and pundits expect Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling to start ahead of the 22-year-old from Everton. However, Owen believes he should start because he was one of few quality players Hodgson has at his disposal – even going as far as to say that Stones could play for Barcelona while no other England player could.
“This kid could play for Barcelona,” Owen said of Stones. “He’s probably the only player in the England squad who could walk into Barcelona’s team at the moment.
“He’s absolutely brilliant. Get behind him, believe in him.”
When questioned further, the former footballer now turned television pundit went on to say that Stones should partner Smalling with the experienced Cahill on the bench.
“I’m picking Stones to partner Smalling in the opener because he’s brilliant,” Owen explained. “It really angers me that people have blindly assumed he’s a player prone to mistakes.
“Name me an England centre-back who hasn’t made an error this season? Or any nationality for that matter?”
“Chris Smalling scored an own goal in United’s final league game and most people accepted it as just one of those things,” Owen continued. “If Stones had done that, everyone would be labelling it as yet another mistake.
“It’s unfair. He has great positioning, excellent on the ball, he’s strong, agile, and brilliant in the air.
While Everton did not enjoy a great season, finishing 11th under Roberto Martinez who eventually got the sack, Stones himself had a decent season. The subject of two bids from Chelsea in the 2015 summer transfer window, the Toffees turned down both bids to ensure he stayed at Goodison Park for the 2015/16 season.
Cahill and Smalling should start ahead of Stones: Sol Campbell
On the other hand, former England defender Sol Campbell believes it is too soon to start a young defender like Stones in a big tournament. Campbell, who has 71 caps for the Three Lions, believes that one single mistake could see Stones suffer.
“If you keep making mistakes at international level, you’re going to suffer because one mistake in a tournament and you can be out,” Campbell said.
“If you make mistakes at a domestic level, you have more time to learn. He is learning.
“He just has to understand there are moments to play the ball and moments to keep hold of the ball. He just needs to find that balance.”
Campbell also believed that England’s best centre-back pairing was Cahill and Smalling because they had more experience than the Everton defender.
“I personally would go for Smalling and Cahill. I would go for the experience of those two guys.”