John Stones’ emergence from a period in which his future at Manchester City appeared at risk, and into another that represented his finest form as a professional, was perhaps even more impressive when considering who he was competing with to feature in Pep Guardiola’s starting XI. Rúben Dias cost a club-record £65m before the start of 2020/21; Nathan Aké a potential £41m; Aymeric Laporte was established as one of Europe’s leading central defenders; Eric Garcia continues to be monitored by some of Europe’s most decorated clubs.
City had made Stones the world’s second most expensive defender when investing £47.5m to sign him from Everton when he was 22, in August 2016. Guardiola has rarely been reluctant to praise his players, but most at City were impressing at a time when he said of Stones: “If there is one guy who deserves the best it is John. He’s struggled a lot but he’s a fantastic human being. His parents must be so proud. He’s had personal problems in the past, injuries. He’s set up good and he’s starting to play. Confidence is everything. He won his confidence for himself.”