John Stones’ first season with Manchester City may not have led to the silverware he was hoping for but his own confidence has been strengthened by unexpected support from rival players.
City went trophyless last term, to the surprise of most pundits, but manager Pep Guardiola has already set about reshaping the squad with a handful of outgoings and the arrivals of Bernardo Silva and Ederson.
Stones, a record £50million signing from Everton, is sure to be central to those plans, with Guardiola repeatedly underlining his faith in the England defender’s ball-playing skills at the back even when they have led to mistakes.
England coach Gareth Southgate has been equally supportive during international breaks but, while the belief from his own managers is to be expected, Stones has been surprised to receive messages of goodwill from opponents.
“I’ve had some nice messages after games from players who I haven’t spoken to before,” he said.
“I won’t name people and drop them in it, but I’ve had messages from strikers and defenders saying that they respect and love the way I play, telling me to keep doing it and not to change the way I am.
“To hear that from players in other teams who I have not spoke to before is great for me and has given me a lot of confidence. It’s a classy touch from them as well. They don’t have to go out of their way to say that.”
Stones accepts City did not meet expectations as a team last year and is unashamed in his pursuit of titles, something he could not achieve with Barnsley or Everton and last experienced as a schoolboy.
“I’ve had that little bit of experience over the years of how hard it is to win trophies and to keep winning trophies,” the 23-year-old said.
“That’s why I went to City and why I wanted to work with Pep himself – he’s got the best out of the players he’s worked with and won a lot of trophies. Ultimately that is my goal, to become as good as I can be and win as many things as I can.
“As a kid I played in tournaments and my team won trophies but in my professional career I’ve not won anything yet. I’m hungry to get a medal around my neck.”
While Stones’ role should remain unchanged by City’s summer recruitment, there will be one significant difference: his shirt number.
He has swapped his old 24 jersey for the traditional centre-half’s number five, vacated by West Ham-bound Pablo Zabaleta.
While some players place little store in such matters Stones buys into the symbolic value, having previously taken over the same number when Johnny Heitinga left Everton.
“It’s been worn by some great players and not only at City but throughout the world,” he said.
“I spoke to Zaba before I took the shirt and just wanted to say that I’d been offered it and wanted to take it forward and I just thought it was the right thing to do.
“He’s had the shirt for such a long time and we shared a few jokes about hopefully winning some silverware wearing that number and I think it was the right thing to do to ask him.
“There’s that bit of respect and justice to the shirt, I suppose.”