John Stones has no doubt both he and England can rely on Harry Maguire at the World Cup, insisting the defensive duo have forged bonds “too strong to be broken”.
The pair have been an integral part of the Gareth Southgate era, helping the Three Lions to the semi-finals four years ago in Russia and then going one step further as they finished runners-up at the European Championship in 2021.
But, while Stones has enjoyed some strong performances for Manchester City this season, Maguire has endured a rockier start to life under Erik ten Hag across town at Manchester United.
With question marks over his form, he has started just three Premier League games all season, but seems likely to retain Southgate’s faith in Qatar.
As for Stones, there is nobody he would rather step out with when the first game against Iran kicks off next Monday.
“When I look at Harry, I see a partner. Through all the experiences we’ve had together he’s had my back and I’ve had his back,” he told the PA news agency after taking part in a McDonald’s Fun Football session at the Trafford Centre.
“We’ve had so many games together, we’ve made a bond and a partnership together. We know what the other person is going to do and how we work best together. It clicks.
“Whatever team or whatever system Gareth decides, if it’s me and Harry we will use those bonds again. They are too strong to be broken by (lack of) game time, form, whatever it is. That kind of goes out the window when these moments hit.
“Harry’s an incredible player, you don’t get to the standard he has without being. The adversity he has gone through, and still is to some extent, shows the character of the person to never give in.”
Stones is one of five City players in the 26-man squad that flies out on Tuesday, a contingent that was almost reduced by injuries to Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips.
Walker has not played for almost six weeks due to a groin problem, while Phillips has only just completed an accelerated comeback from a shoulder operation. Both managed to make the cut despite an initially gloomy prognosis, leaving Stones impressed at their resolve.
“They’ve both been working extremely hard to make the tournament, and they still are, so credit to them,” he said.
“They’ve defied some expert advice and I’m so happy for them as people and players that they’re on the plane.
“It’s definitely not been easy for them, to have surgery and a long time frame that puts you out of the World Cup on paper. So, to go back to the same surgeon, get the green light that you’re weeks in advance is a great credit to the guys at City who’ve been working with them and to themselves.”
Stones was speaking after surprising young fans at the free coaching session in Manchester, where he could already see the impact of a tournament triumph following the success of England’s Lionesses.
“We have a responsibility to inspire the next generation, and as players we take that very seriously. It’s been great seeing all the smiling faces, playing a game I love,” he said.
“Football should be about having fun and that’s exactly what this programme is all about. There are more girls signing up over the summer after the Women’s Euros inspired kids to start playing.
“They inspired us too, because they did something we weren’t able to do unfortunately. It brought back the emotions of memories of being on that Wembley pitch. I really admire what they did in such a tense, high-pressure situation.”
:: John Stones was speaking at the launch of the first ever winter wave of McDonald’s Fun Football sessions, with over 10,000 hours of free football coaching for 5–11-year-olds across the UK in the next two months. Find a Fun Football session local to you by visiting www.mcdonalds.co.uk/football