World Cup 2018: John Stones may look for Pep Guardiola advice in Russia
The England defender says Guardiola’s influence extends not only to taking the central defender’s football brain “to a new level” but also offering pastoral care.
If Stones or any of his Manchester City team-mates have problems, football or otherwise, in Russia they can call the man Stones credits for much of his improvement since his £50m move from Everton two years ago.
“I will definitely speak to him during the tournament,” he said. “He’s very open. He said we can call him or text him whenever we need to, 24 hours a day – which is brilliant of him as a person. Even if it is not football related.
“It is so important. As you have seen with David Silva, who had a lot of problems mid-season when his baby was born prematurely. We all wanted him to make sure his family life was okay. Pastoral care they call it.”
Stones will go to Russia fuelled with the determination to make the most of the World Cup after suffering the disappointment of a “lost tournament” when he wasn’t given any action by Roy Hodgson during Euro 2016 and had to endure England’s failure as a frustrated spectator on the bench.
“The Euros was a tournament I won’t get back so I’ve got make every opportunity count,” he added. “It was disappointing. I went to the tournament having played two warm-up games and I thought I know what I can bring to the team. It was difficult. However long we were out there, me and Ross [Barkley] didn’t get a second on the pitch.
“There’s all sorts of ways to look at it. I can be negative about it and start pointing the finger and blaming people. But I would never do that. And I have got to look at it and think, ‘How can I bring that experience into this tournament?’ Motivation-wise and knowing how team-mates feel when they are not playing.
“They are just as important as the boys who are playing and knowing that everyone has a vital role to play. I trained my heart out every day [in France] as every lad did and never stopped fighting, but the tournament didn’t go well.
“Four years ago I did all the warm-up prep, even the games, in Miami for the last World Cup, and to see the lads go off to Brazil and not succeed was difficult for me sitting at home because I know how hard they had worked, what preparation had been put in and what it meant to them. Those experiences I can bring to the team now.”
Two years on from the Euros and Stones – now a Premier League title winner – can be pretty confident of being one of the first names on Gareth Southgate’s teamsheet. And he puts the improvement down largely down to Guardiola.
“I’m a better player massively,” he added. “It’s down mostly to Pep, the players I’m playing with at club level and obviously becoming more mature, knowing myself and knowing the game better.
“He has taken my footballing brain to another level. Everyone thinks they know football and different systems but when I turned up at City and trained with him it was like a new door opening that I never thought would be there. Everything seem to click and everything is so simple. Simplicity is key.”
Barnsley-born Stones is part of a strong Yorkshire contingent in the squad – Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, Jamie Vardy, Danny Rose and Fabian Delph are also Tykes.
West Ham always claim they won the 1966 World Cup thanks to the trio of captain Bobby Moore, hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst and the other goalscorer Martin Peters so can the county of Yorkshire do the same?
“I’d love it! I don’t think we ever thought we would be in this position – especially me. We’re proud of where we come from and its nice to share that connection.”
Stones’ fellow defender Phil Jones says he will cope with the emotional wrench of leaving behind his new-born baby daughter Alaria.
“She is great and my family will always come first but we have got a big tournament to prepare for and my wife and family know that this is what I do,” he said. “This is what I enjoy doing and this is the biggest tournament in the world. I will manage it – I will be fine.”