Is John Stones ready to step up at Manchester City?
Background image: Ed Higgins, CC BY 3.0
When Leicester City visited the Etihad Stadium to face Manchester City in May, it was a do-or-die affair for the home side. A resurgent Leicester under Brendan Rodgers had become a thorn in the flesh of the big six. But having also shocked the Cityzens by inflicting a 2-1 defeat on Pep Guardiola’s men at the King Power Stadium, there was a genuine fear it could happen again. Even if the Foxes could only hold the home side to a draw, that would have also had dire consequences as far as securing the title was concerned. Liverpool was waiting for any slip up from the defending champions to dethrone them.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man! Captain fantastic, Vincent Kompany took matters into his own hands. The Belgian fired a thunderbolt late into proceedings that settled matters and all but secured the title. A date away at Brighton was the final hurdle. But the Leicester game was the last genuine threat to retaining the title. John Stones watched from the sidelines.
The England international was touted as the next big thing for England in the heart of defence while still at Everton. The fact that Guardiola sanctioned his purchase once he took over at the Etihad stadium in 2016 goes to show how highly he was rated. He featured regularly for the Sky Blues as his ability to play out from the back suited his manager’s style.
But he has seen his role in the team since then gradually reduce instead of increase. For many key games last term, the manager preferred to partner Aymeric Laporte and Vincent Kompany rather than use Stones. That’s despite the fact that the Englishman was at some point, considered by many to be the ideal partner for the former Athletic Bilbao centre-back. The fact that the manager did not trust Stones in those key games like the Champions League double-header against Tottenham spoke volumes. These were games in which the club ended up losing as a result of conceding four goals. Son Heung-Min literally tore apart the City defence and wreaked havoc.
However, after getting past the disappointment as the club ended up breaking records by winning the domestic treble, Kompany decided to quit the stage when the ovation was loudest. That left a gaping hole to fill in defence. As captain and leader from the back, he had blazed the trail for players like Stones. The issue now is if the 25-year-old is ready to step up and become a leader in the team. That is needed, as the old guard is gradually being phased out. David Silva has revealed he is leaving at the end of the new season. Other older players like Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero won’t be around much longer...
At a time when some club fans are expecting a marquee signing to replace their former captain at the heart of the defence, Stones could be the solution they are looking for. Having demonstrated he can be trusted in the national team as Gareth Southgate rates him highly and considers him his first choice to partner Harry Maguire in the position, he needs to convince his club manager as well. Like Kompany demonstrated last term, Stones has to step up when the team needs a hero. He needs to contribute on both ends of the pitch like all of the great defenders do. Players like John Terry, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique built a career doing that.
New heroes like Virgil van Djik and Matthijs de Ligt have risen to global recognition on such account. Stones must push himself to attain that level of performance. The talent is there. What remains is the desire and work ethic. While Kompany’s departure may be seen as a loss for the club by some, it could be Stones’ biggest opportunity. Whether or not he is ready to step up to the plate will be seen in the new campaign.