I firmly believe that John Stones will go on to become England’s best central defender within the next couple of seasons. His progress, however, depends heavily on where he sees his future.
In recent weeks Manchester United and Chelsea have been linked with a move for the 21-year-old. Will either of these giants help his development at this stage of his career? Or is he better off staying at Everton, playing under a manager who firmly believes in his ability?
Stones is currently England’s most sought after player. Everton have already rejected two bids from reigning Premier League champions, Chelsea, believed to be in the region of £20-26million.
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Recent reports also suggest that both Manchester clubs are interested in the young centre-half as well. With another three and a half weeks until the summer transfer window closes, there is no doubt going to be further interest and speculation surrounding the Barnsley-born defender.
The most important thing to consider though, is what club will be the best for furthering the development of Stones, a young player who still has so much to learn.
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What should he do?
I, for one, feel as though Stones should stay at Everton, certainly for the upcoming season. Under Roberto Martinez, Stones is guaranteed to feature every week.
Stylistically, Martinez is a huge advocate of playing the ball out from defensive areas. This puts emphasis on defenders being comfortable with the ball at their feet.
Martinez’s philosophy suits Stones’ game enormously. In his first two seasons in the Premier League, he has developed into a composed, ball-playing centre-half, something which England lack.
Of course Stones hasn’t been faultless during his time at Everton. There were a few occasions, particularly last season, where Stones was caught out whilst trying to bring the ball out from Everton's defensive third.
Martinez, however, has publicly praised Stones’ play, even when he has made mistakes. Earlier this year, he was caught out by West Ham when trying to elaborately come forward with the ball. In the post-match interview, Martinez, rather than criticising his player, found plenty of positives in Stones’ all round play.
At that time Martinez also mentioned the importance of the partnership that Stones was starting to develop with Phil Jagielka. Partnerships, particularly for central defenders, are vital.
Although he is not a world-class central defender, Jagielka is a very good, experienced centre-half; the ideal player that Stones should be playing alongside at this stage of his career. If the youngster is to stay at Everton and play a full campaign alongside Jagielka, I am certain he will progress defensively and become a better all round central defender.
THE CIRCLING VULTURES: STONES’ OPTIONS
As aforementioned, it seems as though Chelsea and United are the two clubs who are most interested in signing Stones.
One of England’s finest ever central defenders, Rio Ferdinand, who cost Manchester United £30million back in 2002, weighed in on the Stones debate, using his voice in an attempt to steer the Everton man to United ahead of Stamford Bridge.
Ferdinand certainly has a point. Last season, John Terry and Gary Cahill were unquestionably the Premier League’s best central defensive duo. That campaign also saw the emergence of Kurt Zouma at Chelsea, a powerful defender who looks like he’ll be around for a long time to come.
Would Stones get into Chelsea’s starting XI at this stage of his career? No. At United, on the other hand, he would certainly have a better chance of playing regularly.
Louis van Gal struggled to find a solid central defensive unit last season: Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, Tyler Blackett, Paddy McNair and Marcos Rojo all had their opportunities, but there were no real signs that a commanding partnership was being formed.
At this stage of his career though, I think it would be a mistake for Stones to join United, especially if it meant playing alongside a different, average, centre-half every week.
Let’s be realistic, though. In the modern world of football, money tends to do a lot of talking. If a big enough offer comes in, then the ultra-resilient Martinez may have to give in and let one of his brightest star leave Everton.
Vital period ahead
The upcoming season is vital for Stones at international level as well. In 10 months England will begin their EURO 2016 campaign and if Stones is not playing consistently then his chances of securing a place in Roy Hodgson’s squad, let alone starting XI, will be severely hindered.
It remains to be seen what the future holds for Stones. The composed central defender is far from the finished article, but given the right time and opportunity he has the potential to go on become a wonderful player.
Football fans, where do you think Stones should aim to play his football next season? Let us know in the comments box below.