John Stones is the Blueprint For England's Defensive Future


The best young players find a way to announce themselves.

For the 16-year-old man-child Wayne Rooney, it was that goal against Arsenal. For Jack Wilshere, it was a performance beyond his 19 years against Barcelona, then the best team on the planet. Michael Owen's unveiling famously arrived at France 98, when the 18-year-old turned on the after-burners and lit up a World Cup.

These moments will always come easier for teenage forwards and midfielders - the laws of football attraction decree it so. A goal at the right time, or a collection of eye-catching passes and dribbles on the right stage, and we're ready to be smitten. For defenders, it's not as straightforward. It's usually a slower burn - a collection of auditions that together amount to the argument - because the kind of tackle Bobby Moore made on Pele in 1970 just doesn't happen very often.

And with that thought we turn to John Stones, the 19-year-old Everton defender who has marked himself out as an England regular-in-waiting this season. 

Stones is the ball-playing central defender his country have been crying out for. He's the Rio Ferdinand thoroughbred for his generation, and his calm assuredness at the heart of Everton's defence is winning fans and pundits over with his every outing on the field. It's a long shot getting shorter by the day, but there's still only a slim chance he'll be on the plane to Brazil. I'm one of many who'd be excited to see that happen.

"People would have to look hard to find a more in-form defender in England," said Everton's Leighton Baines on Tuesday, of the man who's been playing alongside him of late in the absence of injured Phil Jagielka.

"I like John Stones a lot," tweeted Gary Lineker, after watching Stones elegantly, and somewhat effortlessly, cope with the threat of Rooney in Everton's 2-0 win against Manchester United at the weekend. "England are desperately short in his position. Might be worth a wild card. He's got everything bar experience."

Lack of experience is the obvious argument against Stones going to Brazil. It's another cross to bear of being a defender, as opposed to a young forward or midfielder, because defenders are not afforded the same license. Ross Barkley lacks experience, but his mistakes are far less likely to be punished by a goal than those of his Everton team-mate. We don't really consider Barkley's lack of experience could also lead to England missing out on a goal, however, which seems naive.

Stones has not been flawless this season. He was blamed for a goal in Everton's 3-2 loss to Crystal Palace, which may yet cost them a spot in the Champions League, and occasionally a loose pass can leave his team in trouble. Those loose passes are few and far between, however, as proved by a pass success rate of just under 90 percent in the Premier League this season, as per Whoscored.com.

That number has Stones ranked 16th overall for the division, which is testament to his technical proficiency and has him ahead of every English defender bar John Terry in the category. Terry, as we all know, won't be in Brazil this summer, but Stones is very much open to the invitation.

Another extremely encouraging detail was brought to our attention by EFCstats on Twitter, whose number crunching suggests Stones has only been dribbled past three times this season. That's the lowest number for all defenders and midfielders with 10 appearances or more in the Premier League this season, apparently. If that's true, the reason is to be found in his combination of genuine pace and patience when tracking his man. Stones is not a rash tackler, but he's also not a player it's easy to manipulate.

It's easy to get carried away, but the evidence suggests Stones has the talent to be a class above anything England currently have to offer in his position.

Encouragingly, Stones is a student of the game too. In a recent interview with Dominic King of the Mail, it was revealed he spends hours pouring over game footage of Europe's finest. He's clearly been watching Andrea Pirlo, based on the 'panenka' penalty he scored past Juventus in a pre-season friendly. Stones might be humble, but there's a swagger to him that all top players need to reach the highest level. It was clear that night, and it's been clear in the way he's seamlessly fit into Everton's starting lineup.

Should Stones make Hodgson's final 23? Perhaps not if it were named today, but if Stones can finish the season strongly and force his case as part of Hodgson's initial 30, he might yet be the wild card inclusion we weren't expecting. If Hodgson truly does plan to "be brave" and "risk defeat" at the World Cup this summer, with his players sent out to "express themselves", Stones could be given a priceless grounding by just being part of the travelling party.

I wouldn't bank on that happening, but I would certainly bank on Stones being England's first-choice central defender come Euro 2016, and for at least a decade and more after. Sometimes it's a goal, or a one-off performance that announces a young player's arrival. In the case of Stones, it has simply been his consistent excellence. 

Back Stones's Everton to clinch a top four finish at 4.50