John Stones says Champions League success with Manchester City would complete the turnaround from a spell that cast his future at the club into doubt, explaining that he opted to prove himself rather than leave when seemingly out in the cold.
Three years ago, his prospects at City looked distinctly uncertain, a torrid 2019-20 campaign being followed by an investment of more than £100m on fellow defenders Rúben Dias and Nathan Aké. He had slipped down Pep Guardiola’s pecking order but has bounced back to become a pillar of the treble chasers, recently blossoming as a deep-lying midfielder and shining in both semi-final games against Real Madrid.
“If I hopefully look back after Saturday with a winner’s medal … it will be super sweet,” he said. Stones is completing his seventh season at City but was linked with a move away in the summer of 2020.
“It was probably one of the hardest times in my career,” he said. “I went back to looking at myself, being supercritical of myself and what I could do better on the football pitch, and then looking into every fine detail, down to food, what food, training, what training, what extras.
“That’s come down to doing stuff [at the training ground] and then going home and doing work, even late at night, or straight after training: finding these small margins, putting them all together. [A] big learning curve for me and maybe who I am today.”
Stones would not have been short of options had he tried to revive his career elsewhere. “I never thought about that. As soon as you accept that, or have that mindset, then you have killed yourself. So no, I always wanted to stay, I have stayed and I absolutely love it.
“I wanted to prove to myself; I didn’t say to anyone: ‘It was because I want to prove to you.’ In anything, you have to prove to yourself first and foremost that you deserve to be here, you are good enough to be here, and what you bring to the team.”
Stones’s passing range and composure on the ball led to speculation earlier in his career that he could step into midfield and those predictions have come resoundingly true. “I did, and still do, love playing as a centre-half and I’ve absolutely loved this role as well,” he said.
“I have showed myself that I’m able to do it, maybe showing some attributes I didn’t know I had but the manager has seen in me. Ultimately, I’m just trying to show what I can do in there.”