Made in Yorkshire, and now starring in Qatar, ‘Slabhead’ and ‘the Barnsley Beckenbauer’ have come a very long way.
It is a relationship which started nearly 20 years ago on the wind-blasted pitches of south Yorkshire, and Harry Maguire and John Stones will never forget that grounding which has since taken them to a World Cup finals.
England’s central defensive pairing have only conceded one goal from open play so far, and been ever-present amid frequent rotation by manager Gareth Southgate.
Stones has been outstanding, while Maguire has recovered from a difficult period on the sidelines at Manchester United to perform consistently in England’s three group games.
Despite the bitter enmity between their two clubs in the Premier League, they have always possessed a tight bond and understanding which was forged at junior level.
Stones can still recall when he first encountered Maguire at the age of nine.
“I was at Barnsley and he was at Sheffield United. You know the good players in the team and you've seen the size of him now! He was a big kid.”
Stones was brought up in Thurlstone, 28 miles away from the Maguire family home in Mosborough, and their paths converged many times before senior football.
They could have even played together if circumstances had been different: a rarely told story is that Maguire first emerged at Barnsley, but left at the age of nine in 2002 when the club slipped into administration.
Maguire then joined his beloved Sheffield United and junior matches against Barnsley were a regular fixture.
“We played against each other a lot, he was very good on the ball back then,” says Maguire.
“You could always tell that he was one of the better players in his age group. We've been really close ever since.”
While Stones was always a defender, it could have been an entirely different career for Maguire. In his early years with Sheffield United, up to the age of 16, he was a central midfielder.
'He was an absolute giant'
John Pemberton, the manager of United’s academy at that time, pinpoints one conversation as pivotal to Maguire’s story.
“He was an absolute giant and you used to get kids turning up saying ‘oh no, he’s not playing again is he?’” he says.
“But I saw him more as a centre-half. I’d worked with Michael Dawson and Wes Morgan at Nottingham Forest and know a centre-half when I see one.
“We had a conversation and I said to Harry that I didn’t see him as a midfielder. The first-team were leaking goals for fun and I thought that his best chance of getting in was to play at the back.
“I told him to trust me with it. He’s always had a brilliant attitude.”
Maguire was United’s captain in the FA Youth Cup Final against Manchester United in 2011, a few weeks after making his first-team debut at the age of 18.
Stones was a year younger when his professional career received lift-off, appearing as a substitute in Barnsley’s 4-0 defeat at Reading.
'We were called the Barcelona of the North'
Mark Burton, the head of academy coaching at Barnsley between 2007 and 2017, played a key role in the calm, cultured style of play Stones has become renowned for.
“When we [Burton and academy manager Ronnie Branson] came in we wanted to change the philosophy of the club and move away from big strong defenders who could fight and battle,” he says.
“We wanted to keep those traits but go in a more footballing route, with defenders who could play out more. We were called the Barcelona of the North and ‘Stonesey’ fitted right into that.
“The style of football really suited him and in some games we just tried to outpass everyone. At Barnsley he massively stood out, particularly at under-18 level.”
Stones has now lifted four Premier League titles, an FA Cup and two League Cups at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola, who has unquestionably been a huge influence in the later stages of his career.
Maguire, meanwhile, is United’s captain, moving from Leicester for £80 million – a world record transfer fee for a defender – three years ago.
On Sunday, the Yorkshire pair will be crucial in England’s bid to reach the quarter-finals, against a Senegal team who have scored five goals in their last two matches.
“We know each other's games, we know each other's strengths and weaknesses,” says Maguire.
“We have a good understanding and we're mates off the field. I think the bond is there for everyone to see.”