While it is hardly a surprise these days to see defenders like Harry Maguire command reported bids worth £100million following noteworthy performances in the world cup, it was hardly the case till recently. Clubs were increasingly hesitant when expected to indulge in big-money deals for defenders who did not enjoy a proven track record with a largely orthodox approach at play.
At the same time, they were more than happy to invest a lion’s share of their finances behind attacking recruits who were considered safe investments in comparison. The underlying belief rested on the misconception that the acquisition of quality attackers had the ability to determine the overall fortunes in the long run, considering their commercial value with the defensive department deemed expendable in nature.
It all changed with the appointment of former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola as the new manager of Manchester City following the departure of Manuel Pellegrini. The arrival of the 47-year-old was hailed as nothing short of a coup for an outfit which had struggled to churn out its own identity over the years. Many went to the extent of terming Guardiola’s tactics and philosophy as the missing piece in the jigsaw with the ex-Bayern Munich manager termed as the Messiah who would lead City on to glory singlehandedly.
However, Pep soon realised that the issues plaguing his squad were far more serious than he had ever imagined with the central defensive unit singled out for criticism by one and all. While Belgian defender Vincent Kompany had been increasingly injury-prone over the years, Mangala hardly inspired the same confidence with Argentinian defender Nicolas Otamendi in desperate need of a reliable partner.
Guardiola’s gameplay demanded a stable partnership at the back with the presence of ball-playing defenders who enjoyed a high passing accuracy along with the ability to hold their own under pressure deemed extremely important. With the likes of Gerard Pique, Jerome Boateng, Leonardo Bonucci linked with possible moves to Manchester City and a lot of speculation in the air, it would certainly have been beyond Houdini himself to predict the latest addition to the squad.
However, Pep who is known for springing a surprise with regard to squad selection, had another ace up his sleeve in store for the footballing world. Fans failed to believe their eyes when official confirmation of the acquisition of Everton defender John Stones who had been signed for a mammoth fee of £47.5 million trickled in on 9th Aug, 2016 with the Englishman emerging as the second most expensive domestic transfer in English footballing history. While Stones had certainly been linked with a possible move to the Etihad, imagining a transfer fee of such magnitude for a largely unknown defender would have certainly been beyond us all.
While many expressed reservations about the decision, Pep looked completely nonplussed going on to express his delight. He said: “We want to help John show his quality with us and improve on what he has already achieved. I like the way he plays the game and I’m looking forward to welcoming him into the squad.”
The English defender has emerged as one of Manchester City’s most reliable performers over the years which indicates what a coup the signing has turned out to be. Stones enjoys the ability to muscle opponents off the ball, contributing with effective clearances and interceptions ensuring rock-solid gameplay in the heart of defence. Not only this, the lad also enjoys an astounding ability to ensure inch-perfect passes under pressure which has set the tone for several mouth-watering goals.
The 24-year-old enjoys maturity beyond the years with his leadership skills, passion and desire to ensure wins at any cost drawing praise and appreciation from fans, experts and the gaffer himself. While it may be too early to label Stones as the next Kompany, it should certainly not be considered beyond him if he continues to deliver impressive and dominating performances in the same vein.
How well do you know English football? Want to challenge the best Premier League Fantasy Managers? Play www.epl-fantasy.com now!