England’s most expensive player is not being arrogant or burying his head in the sand. He just believes he receives all the guidance and constructive criticism he needs from the people that matter most – Pep Guardiola and his coaching staff at Manchester City.
And Stones believes he is a vastly improved defender from the one who joined City in a record £50m deal last summer having cut out the mistakes that have earned him so much flak from former players turned media pundits like Alan Shearer and Glenn Hoddle.
After City’s painful 4-0 defeat at Goodison Park in January, Shearer slaughtered Stones saying he should be dropped and wondered if he would ever learn the art of defending.
But the man tipped to be the future captain of City and England was oblivious to it, as he is to most of what is said in the media – unless a team-mate or friend happens to drop it into the conversation.
“No, I don’t watch Match of the Day,” he said. “In the past when you’ve made a mistake and watched it later, you see all the criticism and pressure, and you’d rather stay away from that. We get enough video analysis here anyway!
John Stones doesn't like to watch Match of the Day anymore
Stones has come under increased scrutiny since joining Manchester City
“I don’t search for it or look for it. I only get told by people or if they drop it in by accident. Then I say to them ‘it’s fine’ because they have obviously seen it but haven’t meant to say it because they know I don’t look at it. You get to a point where you know whether you’ve done something right or wrong.
“It’s his [Shearer’s] job. I’m sure it is not the first time it has happened. All I’m bothered about is improving. It hurts me more coming from Pep and the coaches here rather than someone on television or someone you don’t really know because I know how much they care.
“If I feel I am improving and the gaffer, the staff, my team-mates and my family are happy with me, that’s what counts.”
The defeat at his former club was the low point but Stones also suffered criticism for a sloppy back pass that gifted Southampton a goal in October, for his defending in City’s 4-2 defeat at Leicester, and again after been out-foxed and out-muscled by Radamel Falcao in the Champions League thriller with Monaco.
Stones accepts he has deserved some of the criticism but says he has been on a steep learning curve under Guardiola, who has given him a “footballing brain”. And he believes that since the turn of the year he has improved “massively”.
The world's most expensive XI Wed, August 10, 2016
Paul Pogba and John Stones have both moved to Manchester clubs for huge fees recently, but who else makes our team of the most expensive players in the world?
Play slideshow Getty Images 1 of 12
Express Sport brings you the most expensive XI in wolrd football, with their cumulative total worth reaching £623.6m
“Through all the mistakes I’ve made and the stick I’ve had, since the start of this year I’ve been working on doing the defensive things right and knowing when to play and when not to,” he added.
“In the last couple of months I’ve found the balance of finding Row Z when it needs to go there or play when I need to play. Before I didn’t have that. I’d tried to play as much as I could and that’s me not knowing the game well enough or not having a good enough football brain.
“The gaffer has opened my eyes to things I’d never thought of before – positions and those fine details that can be the difference between winning or losing. It’s been great for my learning curve and my footballing brain has changed dramatically from the start of the season to now.”
In conversation or with the ball at his feet, Stones is one of football’s most articulate players and even though he is trying to add some steel to his game, he says he will always be a disciple of Guardiola’s ‘play-from-the-back’ philosophy.
Pep Guardiola signed Stones for £50million from Everton last summer
“In the right places I’ve got to be more aggressive and start putting a bit more in but at the same time I don’t want to be getting booked and costing my team in dangerous areas or bad moments.
“I still want to get the ball and play out. With this gaffer and the players we’ve got, we are able to do that which is brilliant for me and where it’s going to take me. I’m quite happy with the balance.”
Stones took time out this week to help teach literacy skills to year five students from E-ACT Blackley Academy in Manchester to mark a new literacy project designed to bring learning to life through a series of football-themed activities.
Just back after a month out with injury, he hopes to show in City’s final game at Watford tomorrow (Sun) that he is reaching the top of his own learning curve.
Thanks to the support of Etihad Airways and partners, City in the Community is using the power of football to deliver a literacy project to local children.