Gerard Pique has praised Everton defender John Stones and his former Manchester United team-mate Wayne Rooney ahead of Spain’s friendly against England.
England face the European champions in Alicante on Friday night, fresh from winning all 10 of their Euro 2016 qualifiers.
Pique believes a lack of stability is harming England’s chance of success, but he sees a bright future for one of the nation’s most promising young talents.
“Rio Ferdinand and John Terry were the two main central defenders in England. Top-level,” he said in an extensive interview with the Daily Telegraph. “Now I think John Stones is a really, really, good player. He will have a good career.
“He’s like Rio, a bit. He’s young and alongside him they probably need one who is more experienced. Jagielka is injured. But Smalling is playing well at Manchester United.”
Stones is not your average English centre-back, perhaps, but Pique believes the 21-year-old has what it takes to succeed at the highest level in the modern game.
“I remember when I arrived in England a lot of people said that my style of play was not for England,” Pique said. “And now it is changing.
“I also remember when Cesc Fabregas and Cazorla arrived in England and people said ‘no, it’s not the same style of play’. But everyone loved it and now they are the stars of the league. I think finally the English fans have to accept that this is the way football is played all over the world. It’s true they love box-to-box but if you want to win titles and trophies then maybe you have to change a little bit.
“Now the position of the centre-back is not just about defending or being nasty or tough. It’s about knowing how to play football, control the ball, pass and be more comfortable in possession. And this is something that 10 years ago [in England] they didn’t understand. Rio was the first one who did it. And now there is Stones, he’s one of the new generation who understand football not just as a defender.
“The centre-back is the first attacker, the first one who builds the attacking play. Then the ball goes to the midfield and the midfielders find the strikers. So the defenders start to generate and create the chances. It’s hard because it’s about changing everything to understand football. But it’s getting better [in England]. It’s a different philosophy.”
Pique praise for Rooney
Pique also reserved praise for Rooney, naming the Manchester United and England captain alongside Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Andres Iniesta, Paul Pogba and Cristiano Ronaldo in a possible dream team.
“I have Wayne Rooney because he is one of the best English players in history,” Pique said.
“He needs to win an important title with England. It will be difficult, but you never know. Recently he became England’s all-time record goal-scorer – a very important record. And he’s not old. Just 30.
“He’s a fantastic lad. When I was there [at United – from 2004-08] he was really young and I was really young too and he helped me a lot. He involved me in the team, helped me to learn English. He was the joker in the dressing room. I have great memories.
“He’s not as quick as he was, maybe, but he will always score goals – he scored a hat-trick against Brugge, he scored against CSKA (Moscow). He has kept scoring.
“It’s true he’s getting older, we all have to accept that, but he has the ability to play for a long time. And, you know, when you don’t score sometimes it is not because of you. Sometimes it’s maybe the team is not creating chances for you.
“Not everything, always, is about your performance. It’s about the team performance. When the team is not playing well then normally you will not play well. It’s all about the team.”
England lack stability
On the England side in general, Pique added: “I think now they are in one of their runs.
“That is a really good sign. But I think, in England, the problem has always been that there is no stability.
“For me, it all depends on the youth team. I remember when the Spanish team won the European Championships [in 2008]. Before that there was a lot of criticism. They won the Euros then we won the World Cup and the Euros again and there were players – Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres – who had worked together since they were 12, 13 and finally the first-team were getting results.
“You have to have that faith. With a club you can change players. With a national team you cannot change your country. But in England the team has continually changed.”
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