I had the pleasure of interviewing Everton and England’s John Stones on Tuesday for next issue 006 of Mundial Magazine, and when I say ‘pleasure’, I couldn’t mean it more.
The lad is a breath of fresh air.
Still the same down to earth, unassuming lad.
I’ve known John since he joined Barnsley full-time as a scrawny 16-year-old (aren’t we all at that age?) but I hadn’t spoken to him for about a year and despite the rapid rise which has seen him mentioned as a target for the likes of Chelsea, Man City and even Barca, I was relieved to see he hadn’t changed one bit.
Still the same down to earth, unassuming lad that wandered around the hallways of Oakwell, doing as he was told and grinning inanely whenever you spoke to him. The only thing that’s changed is the cloak of agents, PR people, photographers and folk like me waiting their turn to sit down to chat to him.
First hand, I’ve seen how football, and certainly fame, changes people.
Right from the 16-year-old who thinks he’s already made it to the 30-year-olds who find it difficult to deal with the lack of limelight as their star wanes, the pressures mould them into different shapes. It isn’t just the internal changes they have to cope with but the shift in the way others treatment them too, with praise and criticism.
John’s critics haven’t been backwards in coming forwards this season either but I guess you have to accept there will always be those hiding in the bushes in hope to get a clear shot to snipe at you when you fall and the same that’s happened to others before him, is now happening to John.
Yet, despite the England caps, the speculation, and the narrowed focus of the critics upon him, he’s still “Ar John”, as they’d say in Barnsley, and if anything’s going to protect him, it’s the infectious Pollyanna attitude he spreads around him and we should be careful not knock that out of him before he’s had the chance to develop into the type of player we crave but are so quick to crush in this country.
It’s not that I think we should take it easy on him just because he’s a good guy, but he’s exactly the type of player we should be rooting for and looking to give an easier ride. Whenever anyone has mentioned Barcelona’s interest or the size of transfer fee mentioned when Jose Mourinho showed interest in him the first comments made were that he’s not worth the money or that he isn’t good enough to play there.
It’s this negativity that has cost us the best of our most gifted players on the international stage. John Stones is the type of footballer we want our national team littered with and we should be paying for his flight ticket to Barcelona if the interest is true, so he can develop alongside the best there is.
Despite the criticisms, the valid and the extreme, I think John is ready for the next step now. The errors he has made are also being made by his older, more experienced peers playing at Bayern, Barca and PSG too but at no cost to their teams who have the firepower to gloss over them.
When I watch John turning down a blind alley on the pitch, I don’t see someone overplaying in wrong areas and being caught out.
I see a player with the confidence to hold on to the ball as instructed by his manager but limited to the options offered in front of him by other players.
If we want to breed defenders like John Stones, and before him Rio Ferdinand, we have to accept that they will make mistakes and let them learn from them until they correct their errors themselves and not turn them into nervous wrecks.