The John Stones situation: Is the £50 million gamble finally paying off?
It was sometime in late July when the John Stones rumours were rampant and the Neymar saga hadn’t blown up the transfer prices yet and £50 million was a lot of money to fork out on a defender, I heard a pundit on telly say that John Stones could walk into any team in the world, no problems.
He went on to say Barcelona were in search of one and if they think he’s good enough to start for them, he can start anywhere else. I took it with a pinch of salt, but he wasn’t far off, a tall ball-playing centre-back commands a certain premium and a number of clubs would be willing to pay the pretty penny for his services.
Fast forward a little over one year in the wake of a blow hot, blow cold season John Stones seems to have settled remarkably well this season. Having an injury prone Vincent Kompany, on one hand, meant getting game time wouldn’t be the issue, this also meant that the then 22-year-old had to shoulder responsibilities far ahead of his age.
The adjustment wasn’t smooth but it has happened in spades this season. Let’s look at the numbers; John Stones has completed 191/194 passes (98.4% successful) in City's last two games. 108/109 vs. Stoke (99.1%), 83/85 vs. Napoli (97.7%). That’s something Pep must be proud of.
Taking Pep's style on board
Adjusting to a Pep Guardiola style isn’t easy; you rarely hit the ground running. For starters he never had a stable partnership at the back, the wingbacks at the time couldn’t reciprocate Pep’s commands ably making Stones face one on ones more often than required. A change in tactics was required after Pep successfully replaced his fullbacks, Pep started preseason with a back 3 meaning Otamendi could lunge into his challenges with the solidarity of having the presence of Kompany and the sharp mind of Stones to gobble up any mistake the opposition might make in their half of the pitch.
The three at the back must’ve helped with Stones’ confidence as there seemed to be a profound change in the man, his tackles were sure, he wasn’t second-guessing himself anymore and he was vocal at the back asserting his presence with every passing game.
In the 8 Premier League games, Stones has played in he has an average passing of 97%, makes over 2 clearances a game, won 8 tackles and 7 interceptions all this without getting booked once in as many games. The commendable attribute here is that in spite of the injuries to Vincent Kompany and Benjamin Mendy and a shift to the back 4 style without a proper left-back Stones didn’t have any problem adjusting, in fact, he seems to have taken up the mantle of Kompany with élan.
A lot of the blame could be put on the fans too, more often than not the price of a player supersedes his reputation, his talent and when the fans fail to justify the price, they go against the player. It is human nature I suppose, you want your investments to always pay off and you want them to start doing so the minute the photo ups with the new squad number finishes. Ask the Cityzens now and they’ll happily retract their animosity filled statements. Now more than ever Stones is playing like a £50 million defender.
City needed to reinforce their backline this summer and they did, they got two world class fullbacks, a utility fullback but failed to get a centre-back. Virgil van Dijk, Kalidou Koulibaly were on the shortlist and neither made it to the City team. This was good news for John Stones and for the club as an inform Stones is nothing short of a spectacular new signing.
Add to that the fact that a new signing would need time to adjust and the possible silver lining from last season was that stones took the entire season to adjust City now have amidst them a great ball-playing defender intrinsic to the system.
Talking weaknesses, Stones needs to be consistent, vocal and exude a certain confidence a great centre back exudes, the confidence that the likes of a Beckenbauer would exude analogous to a get out of jail free card.