The rebirth of John Stones is a story of dogged perseverance in the face of some pretty miserable times.
At one point in the summer of 2020 he looked finished at Manchester City after being virtually banned by Pep Guardiola. The following year he faced the double heartbreak of defeats in major finals for both club and country.
Yet somehow the England defender has found the courage to reinvent himself and no one would argue that at 29 he is now one of Guardiola’s most important figures heading into the Champions League final. Saturday’s Champions League against Inter Milan, who could clinch City the Treble.
Stones has excelled this season as a centre-back, right-back and midfielder, sometimes in the same 90 minutes. The bigger the occasion, the better he played, whether it was a 4-0 win over Real Madrid or last Saturday’s FA Cup final triumph over Manchester United.
Even he seems to find it hard to believe just three years ago that Guardiola preferred to play an out-of-position Fernandinho alongside Eric Garcia for a Champions League quarter-final loss to Lyon, seen as a sign that his time at City was up. .
John Stones has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance at Manchester City this season
“It was probably one of the toughest times of my career,” admits Stones. I started to look at myself again, to be super critical and to see what I could do best.
“I went into every detail, what food to eat, when to eat, how to train, what else I could do, everything.
“I was doing extra work right after training or even late at night. I was looking into small margins, breaking things down to see how I could get back into the team. It was a big learning curve and made some me what I am today.
“But I still haven’t thought about leaving City. As soon as you got that mindset, you killed yourself and I always wanted to stay.
“It wasn’t about telling someone else ‘I want to prove it to you’ – I wanted to prove to myself that I was good enough to be at City, that I deserved to be here and that I could bring things to the team.”
Stones made some progress in 2020/21 before being hit with another cruel blow at the end of the season. He was part of the City side beaten 1-0 by Chelsea in the Champions League final, then suffered with England in the European Championship final against Italy.
“This summer has been one of the most difficult times to live,” he admits. But he fought again to find the best form of his career.
“It will all make things super sweet I guess if I have a winner’s medal on Saturday night, but I can’t really think like that right now.” Ask me again after the final! his remarks with a smile.
The defender has become one of Pep Guardiola’s most important players in their three-time bid
“It wasn’t just the Lyon game, but any game where you’re ruled out, you might think you should play. That said, it’s always difficult at a club like this because we have incredible players.
“I really tried to put a positive spin on it if I wasn’t in the team and used that to motivate me. I wanted to make sure I gave the manager a headache with his team selection.
Stones will certainly be on the scoresheet for Istanbul. His versatility has defined this latest incarnation of Manchester City’s Pep and wherever he appears on the pitch he looks at ease.
His license to build the game in midfield has also not impacted the defensive side of his game. His reading of the game to make vital blocks and interceptions has never been better.
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised,” he says of Guardiola’s request to step up the pitch.
“People said from an early age that they could see me playing in midfield. I always like playing as a centre-half and I loved that role as well.
“I think I’ve proven to myself that I’m capable of doing it, maybe showing attributes that I didn’t know I had but the manager saw in me.
“At the end of the day, it’s about showing what I can do to help the team win and it’s also allowed me to appreciate what the other players on the team want. I know what kind of passes the midfielders would want from me because I myself have been in that position now.
City are the favorites to add their first Champions League to the Premier League and FA Cup crowns already won.
The 29-year-old has excelled this season at centre-back, right-back and midfield.
Even so, their recent history in Europe with shock defeats to Monaco, Tottenham and Lyon suggests there should be no complacency from Stones or his teammates.
“Inter are in the Champions League final for a reason,” believes Stones, who spent two years playing under famous striker Romelu Lukaku at Everton.
“Who we play against, we respect the other team. They have amazing players and we all saw how they played in the semi-finals in a derby against AC Milan which is never easy.
“We know what we are up against, but we have to be ourselves and focus on ourselves as well.”