John Stones insists he is learning the importance of doing the dirty work at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola as he prepares to make his return to the England starting line-up.
Stones became the most expensive defender in Premier League history when Guardiola brought him to the Etihad Stadium from Everton for a reported £47.5million, with his stylish composure on the ball making him central to the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach’s desire to build attacking from deep.
But Stones revealed Guardiola has also tried to bring into line a tendency to over-elaborate that led to a succession of costly errors for Everton last term.
He is set to enjoy a reward for impressive early form at City by starting as one of three changes in Sam Allardyce’s maiden England XI for Sunday’s opening 2018 World Cup qualifier in Slovakia.
According to multiple UK media reports, Stones and Liverpool duo Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana will come in as the only alterations to the side that was humiliated in a last-16 defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016.
Stones will swap club colours for those of his country with the respective requirements under Guardiola and the famously pragmatic Allardyce perhaps not as far apart as previously imagined.
“I believe I have come on quite a lot, already, as a player,” he told reporters.
“I was doing things before and then I would think: ‘Why have I done that? Why haven’t I just put it out in row Z?’ Already I can see a difference in my decision making.
“So, of course, I’ll kick it into row Z if necessary. We can all regroup from putting it in row Z sometimes.
“I’ve always liked taking the ball out of defence and I will carry on doing that but at the end of the day I’m a defender, and that’s what I want to be known as – a defender, getting in the blocks and the headers that people don’t recognise I do, the dirty stuff that every defender should do and should be good at. The rest of it is a bonus, where I can play out and start attacks.
“But I know I have to evaluate myself, watch things back and realise when I can do things and when I can’t.”
Stones found himself out of the Everton side when form deserted him last season and failed to get on the field during Euro 2016.
The 22-year-old is relishing his current turnaround in fortunes.
“I feel like there is a weight off my shoulders,” he explained. “It’s nice to be settled and enjoying my football, the new experience, playing in the Champions League and all the things you dream about when you start playing football.
“I feel like I’ve settled in quickly. It’s all come thick and fast and I’ve been taking in a lot of information over the last few weeks, trying to figure everything out.
“I’m under the best manager there is and I’m just really enjoying myself.”