John Stones gives Gareth Southgate the odd fright but the interim England boss will continue to encourage a defender who has the “perfect” teacher in Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.
Three months ago the 22-year-old swapped Everton for the Etihad Stadium in a £47.5million deal, making him the second most expensive defender of all-time.
It was a huge outlay borne of Guardiola’s belief in the talented defender, although there remains work to get the rough diamond sparkling consistently.
There were some unnerving moments from Stones as England overcame Scotland 3-0 on Friday evening, when attempts to play from the back at times got his team into trouble.
“For years we’ve talked about not being able to play out from the back,” interim England boss Southgate said in Stones’ defence.
“If we’re to be different, if we’re to progress, then we have to encourage players. But he also knows what I think of some of the things he did!”
He added: “I believe we have the technical ability. I think it’s decision-making, positioning, sometimes – recognition of the moments to really commit to it and the moments to maybe play past the first press. We want bravery, but not stupidity at times. We have to find that balance.”
Knowing when to clear the danger and when to play it out is key, but Southgate underlined how time is on the defender’s side.
Centre-backs do not tend to reach their peak until their late twenties and, in former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss Guardiola, he has a great tutor.
“What we’ve got to remember is he’s 22,” Southgate said. “In central defensive terms, it’s nothing.
“If we want to have a (Mats) Hummels, a (Jerome) Boateng, a (Gerard) Pique…
“I can remember managing a team against Pique at 22 when he played for Manchester United and he wasn’t the all-round real deal.
“I think he’s got the perfect manager to work with and to hone and for all of our defenders, that’s what we want to encourage.
“Anybody that’s seen the under-21s play knows how we believe is the right way to go forward.
“I wanted us (on Friday night) to be an England team that played with confidence and were prepared to use the ball even though it was a very intense and difficult atmosphere.”