STONES tells RICHARDS about bouncing back at Manchester City

‘It’s given me that edge to prove I’m not a quitter’: JOHN STONES tells MICAH RICHARDS about bouncing back at Man City, why rivals United will be ‘fired up’ for the derby, the pain of being dropped by England and THAT clearance against Liverpool

  • John Stones could not be happier having regained his place at Manchester City 
  • He has won five major honours since his £47million switch from Everton in 2016 
  • Here, he dissects the Manchester derby with Sportsmail’s Micah Richards 
  • He also discusses his Liverpool clearance and watching England from afar

Clean sheets have become a currency for Manchester City once again and John Stones could not be happier. The 26-year-old, who is one of England’s finest defenders, has been in the thick of things for the past month as Pep Guardiola’s side have gone 485 minutes without conceding.

From the moment he logs onto a Zoom call with Sportsmail‘s Micah Richards, it is clear to see City’s No5 is in high spirits. We are here, principally, to dissect Saturday evening’s Manchester derby but there is so much more for Stones to discuss at the end of a year that has presented various challenges.

Through the course of 45 engaging minutes, Stones – who has won five major honours since his £47million switch from Everton in 2016 – tackles a number of big issues, from how he reclaimed his place with City to the pain of watching England from afar. Sportsmail‘s DOMINIC KING listened in.

Clean sheets have become a currency for Man City and John Stones could not be happier

The Manchester City defender discusses a number of topics with Sportsmail’s Micah Richards

Richards: Right, Stonesy, I’m giving you a simple one to start: how does it feel being back in the team?

Stones: Oh mate! (pauses) I don’t really know how to say it (pauses again) I’m just… pleased – pleased to be back out there, showing what I can do and helping the team. The times I’ve not been in the side have been difficult. You’ll know what it is like when you are watching and not playing, sat in the stands.

Being a supporter on the sidelines is never what you want as a footballer.

It has shown me a lot about myself. It’s given me that edge to prove to myself I’m not a quitter. I’m not someone who is going to lay down and let these things happen. You have to look back and think: ‘what are the little things I can do? How can I put myself in the best light to play?’

So I’ve trained hard every day and wanted to give the manager a problem. That’s all you can do isn’t it, Meeks?

Stones admits he is pleased to be back out there after being sat on the sidelines this season

Richards: Tell me about it! I’ve been in that situation. My only problem when I was at City was I didn’t get the chance to turn it around. Pablo Zabaleta was in my position and doing so well…

Stones: I don’t want to say I’m back to show everyone what I can do. Everyone here knows what I’m capable of and what I bring to the team. Not only football-wise but as a person. That is a big thing for difficult moments in a season: what characters do you have in the dressing room?

I think one thing I have brought since the start of the season is the talking-side of it, keeping everyone focused. Get the mentality of clean sheets across. That is the platform for us to go and win, let the boys up top go and express themselves. These clean sheets matter.

Any team that keeps clean sheets, the confidence you take from it. The feeling of it transmits to every game and you keep bouncing on. It’s contagious. When someone is on form and they are scoring goals, it’s the same for a defender.

Stones believes he has brought the mentality of clean sheets across to the City defence

Richards: So I’m going to put you on the spot now. What would you say your best moment in Manchester City shirt has been?

Stones: (pauses) Hmm. Best moment….

Richards: I’ve got one – and I think it defines you as a player – and I want to see whether you feel it is the same?

Stones: I’m still thinking…

Richards: It’s the goal-line clearance against Liverpool (January 2019). It was this close (pinches his finger and thumb together). You don’t make that clearance, you don’t win the game. You don’t win that game, you don’t win the league. It is an ‘Aguero moment’ – that’s how big it was…

Stones: You know in those big games when something like that happens (Stones cleared the ball under pressure from Mohamed Salah with 11 millimetres to spare) , you can only look back on it and feel proud. Look, that moment is right up there. 

Stones admits he looks back at his clearance against Liverpool last season with immense pride

My thought process was: I’m taking everything here! When the ball was spinning and Eddy (City goalkeeper Ederson) was running back, I just thought to myself: ‘I’m not risking someone getting a toe in between us’. So that it was it: right, I’m taking the lot.

Richards: See, it is important for people to hear you talk like this. People have a perception of you that it is all about the style, about being good on the ball and passing out from the back. The horrible side clearly means more to you than anything…

Stones: Oh definitely. Listen, he (Guardiola) wants defenders to defend as much as any other manager I have worked for – Gareth Southgate, Roy Hodgson, David Moyes, Roberto Martinez included. Yes, I have confidence to show my ability when we are in possession of the ball and start things off. But I’m going to go back to the first point about clean sheets – that is the platform. Whatever is in front of me, it was getting cleared out of the box.

He insists Pep Guardiola wants defenders to defend as much as other bosses he has played for

Richards: I knew when City signed you that you were going to win trophies. There you are – the best defender in England. Listen to me – you shouldn’t ever doubt yourself. I’d say you knew you had chance of being successful here. Until you do it, though, you wonder if it will happen…

Stones: Exactly. That’s why the first trophy stands out. These were things that I never thought I would get my hands on. I never imagined what the feeling would be to win a trophy. You see it all the time on TV, don’t you? You see other teams dancing around and looking so happy. 

The FA Cup was special, more for my family. They had watched it all their lives and had an attachment to it from giant-killings and things like that. But that first Premier League (2018), when we got to lift it at home with our families there. The whole thing about it was unforgettable.

Richards: It is just great to see you smiling here again. I know there are critics out there, and on social media, who want you to fail…

The centre-back labelled winning his first Premier League title with City in 2018 ‘unforgettable’

Stones: I think from being out of the team to contributing again, it sounds like a cliché but you do learn a lot about what matters and what you take for granted when you are playing. I go out there now and have this feeling that I know what it is like to be sat in the stand. I don’t want to be that person who is not playing. I want to prove to myself that I’m not a quitter. I’m fighting for my place here and fighting every day, doing everything that I can.

Richards: What was the hardest point for you when you were out of the team? You said something before that stuck in my mind about not wanting to be a spectator. It’s exactly that…

Stones: Yes, but I have always been about the team. I put my personal opinions to one side on game day. That shows a lot about someone’s character. It tells you about someone’s desire to win, putting the team first. During training, I was just fighting and I knew the only way I could do it was by working hard. I tried to improve on… a lot of things! (self-deprecating laugh)

Any player who doesn’t play in big games knows this: it hurts. So I used it as fuel. You say it’s good to see me smile, well I have been happier in myself – even when I wasn’t playing. Going the opposite way (sulking) was going to have too much of a negative effect. It would have started affecting training, my performances. It’s hard to express it.

Stones admits he used being left out of big games as fuel and put personal opinions to the side

Richards: People saw City sign Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake come in during the summer; Eric Garcia was ahead of you. How do you react to those situations?

Stones: I do see it as motivation. I like the challenge. It was like when Vinny (Vincent Kompany) was here and they signed Nico Otamendi and me. He loved the challenge. Whatever it was, football or not. I’m the same. It’s another fight. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t that way. I haven’t come through the things I have done to not keep fighting. I want to prove my worth for the squad.

Richards: There was so much negativity on social media. People say footballers don’t look at it but you know it’s there. You shouldn’t take it to heart but these people are making a difference in how people are perceived. Does it affect you?

Stones: I have nothing on my phone. Nothing. No social media. That is something players can control. What they see and what they don’t see. I’ve always said that it is my family, the coaching staff, my team-mates and my friends: those four groups, their opinions really matter. Not someone who says something on anything like Twitter. If those who are closest to you can look you in the eye and tell you that you did this, this and this wrong today, you will listen.

Another source of motivation arrived when City signed Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias 

Richards: Let’s talk about England: I’ve looked at squads during this autumn and not been able to understand how you haven’t been in. I get that Gareth Southgate has a rule where players must be playing for their clubs but you haven’t played for England for nine games…

Stones: (clear change in his demeanour) It hurts. It really does. Playing for England… (considered pauses) I can’t put it into words what it means to me. It’s difficult when you are not selected and you can’t contribute to anything and be a part of it all.

I want to be involved in the journey that they are on. But, again, it is something that has made me work even harder. I’ve literally looked into the smallest details of everything: diet, gym, lifestyle. I am literally doing everything I can to stay in City’s team and then, hopefully, get back into the England squad.

I’ve tried to figure out what I need before a game, what I should be eating for recovery. What I need to fuel up before a game. Small thing like that make a massive difference. Staying hydrated. What I should be eating. All these things I can utilise at the club from speaking to the doctor, getting my blood results. 

Stones revealed it pains him not to have been included in Gareth Southgate’s England squads

Literally finding everything that I can improve on. All those little things take effect from your lifestyle. It doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over months and I feel better for it. Sometimes things happen and you think they have had an effect. It’s like a superstition, isn’t it?

Richards: I know exactly what you mean. You will have one game, play really well, and you remember that you put your left shin pad on first. ‘I’ve got to do that all the time now!’ You’ll eat something one week and think ‘I’ve got to eat that again!’ Anyway, come on: it’s derby day. Talk to me about Manchester United…. 

Stones: Oh man… It’s always a tough game. Everything goes out of the window when you play them. I don’t think previous results or current form counts. We are very comfortable in our playing style and our approach to the game. But this is the pride of the city. They are going to be fired up just as we are always fired up for every Derby game. There is pride on the line. It is something I definitely thrive on. The boys do too. This is another step for us to progress and try to get the title back. It’s going to be a tough game and a good game and one that we can hopefully…

Richards: (laughing) I’ll finish that sentence for you… WIN!  

Stones labelled the Manchester derby as another step to try to get the league title back

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