Tuesday 12 November 2019

We all know where everyone is on the pitch telepathically, says City's Stones

England defender tells Jason Burt of his respect for 'passionate' Guardiola and insists that he's never hidden away from mistakes

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola make his point to John Stones on the touchline. Photo: David Blunsden/Action Plus via Getty Images
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola make his point to John Stones on the touchline. Photo: David Blunsden/Action Plus via Getty Images

John Stones laughs. "It's not your typical English football, is it?" he says as he discusses himself, Aymeric Laporte and goalkeeper Ederson passing the ball across their own six-yard area at Liverpool this month.

"It's what we worked on in training," the Manchester City defender adds. "And to have that trust in each other is massive. But also to have that trust in yourself to be able to do it."

There was method in the apparent madness. It was to draw out Liverpool's intense press and "create more space," Stones reveals. "I don't think we could do it with any other manager and how he coaches us," he adds. "It's down to him and his ideas. He's so detailed in what he wants and we all know where everyone is going to be. We know telepathically."

Pep Guardiola is no ordinary manager and Stones is no ordinary footballer. That much is clear as he outlines his dream of breaking City's record total of 100 points from last season, wanting to spend the rest of his career at the club, his "surreal" World Cup and being tricked into dressing up as a white rabbit by Kyle Walker.

Overthink

But, first, back to that "telepathy". Did he really mean it? "It's the right word," Stones says. "We all know where everyone is at the right moment and without even looking you can play a pass.

"I don't really overthink what kind of situation I am in. I just kind of roll with it and for me to say that word to you is strange but it's kind of the norm now because we are training that hard and staying that focused to keep improving, keep getting better."

How much better? City destroyed the league last season, so, how can they improve upon that? "I think it's more of the same, really," Stones says. "Such a high bar to set ourselves but that bar is there to be broken, to try and beat that.

"And I don't think it's impossible. We've drawn two games but last season away at Liverpool we lost [4-3] so that's another step forward, to go there and do that. I don't see why we can't break it [100 points]. I'm not saying we will but it has to be an ambition. Fifty points at home and 50 points away is unheard of as a team and I'd love to keep improving."

At Anfield, City earned a draw and also a clean sheet, which has become a regular feature of the season. They have stopped the opposition scoring in six of their nine league games so far, conceding just three goals. I tell him what Leonardo Bonucci told me in an interview this week, that the Juventus defender regards the goal like his home and he will not allow any trespassers.

"It's a great way to put it, from a top player and I love doing that side of the game," Stones says. "I know in our inner circle we talk about it a lot and that's a great platform for the lads to go and score the goals."

The issue of whether Stones is either the best ball-playing English central defender, or someone who makes too many errors, has framed the debate over his career.

"I think being harsh on myself has got me where I am today," he says. "I've never hidden away from mistakes or the good things as well. I will always try and process everything, be harsh on myself and know that I need to improve because it drives me even more to make sure I don't do it again.

"But sometimes I will be in a press conference and I remember one guy saying 'you've not been playing recently' and I had played the last few games. And I've questioned him. If someone wants to ask me a question then I'd like them to back it up. It's not me being rude or disrespectful but as I've got older I've realised I can question people or ask why. Maybe in the past I have been scared to ask them or scared of the reaction of what I would get back."

Stones returned to City early after the World Cup - despite Guardiola telling him to take all the time he needed - and he played in the Community Shield win over Chelsea. "I would have kicked myself if I was not there because those are the days you remember and play football for. You can rest all you want when you have finished your career," Stones says.

The unexpected run to the World Cup semi-final with England changed many things. "Did you enjoy it?" Stones asks, knowing I had reported on England every day out in Russia. "It still doesn't seem real... I was on holiday afterwards and people were coming up to me at dinner and saying, 'Thank you so much'. And I was thinking, 'You don't need to thank me'. I think I might have said it to you - I just wanted to make people proud and excited to watch England again. And I think we did that and that makes me as proud as getting to the semi-final."

And so what of the rabbit suit, one of the more curious moments in the Amazon Prime documentary 'All or Nothing' following City's title win.

Camaraderie

"I rang Kyle and they were playing golf and I said, 'I'm going to come' and he said, 'No, no, you've got to come in either a three-piece suit or a [fancy dress] outfit' so I went and found the outfit and drove to the golf," Stones says. "I didn't realise the cameras were going to be there so I've turned up and was walking down the fairway thinking, 'Here we go, this is going to be everywhere'."

It is another sign of the camaraderie. "We just want to be normal, have a laugh and do silly things like that. I think if we'd not won the league it might have been different!"

Stones is not a stranger to putting himself in the firing line. As a gangly teenager he was sent to the famous Wincobank gym in Sheffield, run by the late Brendan Ingle who had trained boxers Naseem Hamed and Kell Brook.

"Don't get me wrong - I am no good at boxing," Stones says, laughing. "There was a kid, Kid Galahad, you heard of him? I was taller than him and he was doing body shots. But we were going at it and he was so fast. I had a few rounds with him and I remember thinking, 'Here we go, he's going to hit me'. But it was all the idea of Mark [Robbins, the then Barnsley manager] who wanted me to improve."

As does Guardiola. Stones recalls the incident last season when the City manager strode on to the pitch at the end of a late win against Southampton to animatedly speak to their winger Nathan Redmond, saying it is typical of the man.

"He [Guardiola] has always got time to see someone smile and be happy and he will have wanted that for 'Redders'. He's such a passionate person." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ben Te’o on England’s World Cup defeat, Eddie Jones and his Toulon adventure

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport