John Stones has the defensive qualities to become England’s long-term answer to Ronald Koeman, according to Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.
Stones’ willingness to play out from the back has made him a key part of the Premier League leaders’ team since arriving from Everton for £47.5million in August. On Saturday, he faces a first meeting with his former club, managed by Koeman, who was a playing colleague and room-mate of Guardiola at Barcelona during the first half of the 1990s.
Guardiola has spoken of his admiration for Koeman, who played at the Nou Camp between 1989 and 1995, describing the former Holland captain as “one of the best central defenders I ever met”, and sees Stones as a similar type of player. “They’re quite similar in the sense that they both like to play the ball,” Guardiola said.
“Normally, a central defender is a big guy who plays with the head, marks man-to-man and is strong in the air. We need that, of course. But there’s an added plus in terms of the quality of John’s play. John has similarities to Ronald, especially in terms of mentality. John is a guy who wants to play under pressure.
“Normally, the players who like to play the ball handle the pressure better than the other ones. I cannot compare them now. Not yet. Maybe in the future. The long balls that Ronald played… wow. He was the best ever at that. But John is young enough that he can improve.”
Stones endured a difficult final season at Everton, which began with a rejected transfer request as he tried and failed to force through a move to Chelsea, and was followed by a series of error-ridden displays that saw him lose his place in late January. He was picked for England’s Euro 2016 squad but did not play a single minute in France, as Roy Hodgson preferred Chris Smalling alongside Gary Cahill in the centre of defence.
However, Stones has become a first choice for the early stages of his country’s World Cup campaign, starting alongside Cahill in all three qualifiers to date, including Tuesday’s 0-0 draw away to Slovenia. “I am so glad that he played for the national team, and did well,” Guardiola said. “In the last European Cup [at Euro 2016], he didn’t play one minute. Now he’s playing all the games, and he’s becoming an important player for the national team. I am so happy about that.”
Guardiola has indicated that he will take a late decision on whether to field Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling against Everton. De Bruyne is back in training after recovering from a hamstring tear sustained against Swansea last month, while Sterling missed England’s matches against Malta and Slovenia during the latest international break with a calf problem.
Aguero has returned to Manchester after a difficult week in World Cup qualifying with Argentina, sustaining a minor calf problem during a 2-2 draw in Peru on Thursday of last week, then declaring himself fit for Tuesday’s home match against Paraguay, only to miss a penalty in a 1-0 defeat.
“Emotionally he’s fine, he’s very well,” Guardiola said. “But you have to know, we are all criticised: an Argentine in Argentina, a Brazilian in Brazil, a Spaniard in Spain, the players across the world and the managers across the world. It can make you stronger, you can put up with it, or else you better find something else to do.”Reuse content