John Stones is a ball-playing centre back with bags of potential, but when it comes to mastering the art of defending, he’s at best only 60 per cent of the way there. The youngster’s positional play, decision-making, aggression, and all-round command of the role have considerable room for improvement. He’ll know that too.
So when you consider Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United are all still interested in paying upwards of £25million for the Everton star - now, not in the future - it tells you all you need to know about the dearth of outstanding ‘defenders’ who are coming through the system.
But that’s not his problem. What Stones needs to worry about, and ultimately decide, is which environment will help him add that missing 40 per cent to his game over the next five years. Where is he most likely to fulfill his promise?
My instinct and experience tells me that for at least one more season, he should stay where he is at Goodison Park.
Read: Mark Jones on the reasons why Chelsea want John Stones
I always learned more in 90 minutes of first team football, than I did in a hundred reserve games, or a thousand coaching sessions. All of those experiences are important, but there’s no substitute for competitive match practice.
To improve you need opponents to ask you serious questions when it matters; you need to experience what it takes to win, how to eradicate mistakes that mean you lose. Learning how to handle intense pressure, and even noise, is paramount to player development too.
Stones will get that at Everton. He’ll be a regular this season, and very few 21-year-old central defenders will be afforded the opportunity to spend ten months marking high-class strikers in Premier League matches. I can only see him growing as a player because of it.
Signing for Chelsea sounds great on paper and he’d work with an outstanding defensive coach in Jose Mourinho – but is being fourth choice for a manager who doesn’t like to rotate his defenders, a good thing? First team football has to trump that.
The Blues boss only used six defenders last term and one of those, the excellent Felipe Luis, has called it quits after just one year as a frustrated understudy. His career was going backwards, and it’s a danger that could face Stones too, if Everton sell him to the champions.
There are those who’ll say watching John Terry and Gary Cahill in close quarters will give him priceless tips. It’s a fair point, but I don’t buy into that theory completely.
I spent hundreds of hours training with the brilliant Dennis Bergkamp, Ian Wright and Paul Merson, seeing great things on a daily basis, but it never guaranteed their magic would rub off on me!
Playing with the best in matches on a regular basis is the most effective way to learn from them. How many times will that happen if Chelsea’s first choice defenders stay fit next term?
Working with a manager that sees you as a world-beater, also elevates confidence. Most players perform better for bosses that appreciate their talent and make them main men. I know I did.
Being a bit-part player with others are ahead of you in the manager’s affection can be quite disheartening if you’ve come from somewhere where you were loved. Too many whizzkids have discovered this to their cost when switching to bigger clubs too soon.
While Roberto Martinez is no sage when it comes to defensive acumen, he does make Stones feel a million dollars. Last season he described the defender as ‘one of the best in Europe’ at what he does, and having that support at the age of 21 is a huge positive.
Right now Stones isn’t ready to play every week for a title contender.
Being part of a huge club, a quality squad, and winning the odd medal or two is lovely, but unless you’re playing all the time it won’t make you a better footballer.
The Everton centre-back needs to find that extra 40 per cent, and another full season at Goodison Park will take him closer to that goal.
Until a top four club thinks he’s ready to be their top dog, he’s better off where he is.
Read more from Adrian Clarke