A season of increasing and costly individual errors and poor decision-making has led to criticism and debate in the press and amongst the fans. John Stones’s quality as a footballer is obvious, however, his merits as a defender are not so apparent.
At the age of 21, John Stones is far from the finished article and is only a step down the track to a destination everyone appears to believe he is heading. Touted as a future England captain and ‘the next John Terry,’ Stones has some developing to do to fulfil that sort of potential and that sort of tag. However, with over eighty appearances for Everton in all competitions since 2013 and eight senior international caps, he is no amateur and has gained sufficient experience to know how to navigate the demands of the Premier League.
Being a ball playing defender shouldn’t necessarily mean more risk, in truth it should provide two things, more possession of the football and in the right moment, a launchpad for attacks. However, this is reliant on good decision-making and this season Stones has not always shown himself capable of this. This has led to defensive errors, forcing his team into last-ditch defending which has not always been successful. Stones is leading the way in defensive errors for Everton and crucially, seventy-five percent of those errors have led to a goal being conceded – an alarming trend for a player put in a position to keep the goal count down.
Playing the percentages is part of the decision-making process and crucial for a defender and this is something that appears to have been lost on Stones this season, often he has opted for taking another touch or another pass instead of clearing his lines. Everton’s home fixture against Swansea in the premier league saw Stones repeatedly making bad decisions, one of those decisions led to Tim Howard giving a penalty away after receiving the ball from Stones when perhaps a clearance from himself would have been a better option. Everton lost that fixture and the atmosphere at Goodison was hostile at times and throughout the game, the Everton fans consistently vented their frustration at unnecessary and avoidable mistakes being made.
The current playing style at Everton is a possession driven style and therefore, it can be argued that Stones is only carrying out the directions of the manager, Roberto Martinez and any mistakes being made should reflect on the manager. In reality, the mistakes just lead to a loss of confidence and increasing abuse from the fans witnessing it. It’s not Martinez on the pitch, it’s Stones. The proverbial vicious cycle then prevails when the loss of confidence hits and the pressure increases and at this point Stones is only likely to revert to type and play as he clearly has always played – controlling, and passing the ball. The pressure part of that cycle makes the decision-making compromised and it’s costing Stones and Everton.
Stones will never be a defender to smash it into row z ahead of a short pass into midfield but for the sake of his career the defending has to improve and he has to be considered reliable as a defender. The cut-throat nature of elite football means that mistakes will be punished and in many ways, he is only throwing himself under the bus. England manager Roy Hodgson has also warned Stones to cut out the mistakes ahead of Euro 2016 but also maintains that he should not change his natural game as a talented, composed, technically gifted defender.
Subject to much speculation during multiple transfer windows, it’s clear that Stones is destined for pastures new. Chelsea publically declared their interest in Stones and had several bids rebuffed by Everton, this is unlikely to dampen their interest though and another pursuit for his signature will surely follow at the end of the season. Chelsea won’t be the only club and given Everton’s poor season they are likely to have their resolve tested a number of times and Stones himself will have decisions to make, will he remain loyal to Everton and try to improve under Martinez, who is also not guaranteed a future at Goodison or does he make the move away from Goodison Park?
A recent poll revealed that a small majority still believe that Stones is a wonder kid but that percentage could have been much higher had the season been different for Stones.
His quality and potential are not in question but the fulfilment of that talent and potential hinges on what happens next. Learning from the mistakes made this season will prove critical and a new manager and club might help with that. A different voice and a different perspective may inject fresh impetus into his career. His internal voice and perspective must also freshen up and by making the right decisions at the right times will allow him to add clarity and decisiveness to his game, it will also make him a reliable defender and not have to rely on last-ditch recovery defending that is high risk and low reward.
Wonderkid or wonderfully overrated?
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