John Stones hits back at ‘harsh’ Harry Maguire criticism, lauding ‘incredible’ Man Utd star

John Stones, Harry Maguire England v Denmark June 2021

John Stones has hit back at the criticism of England defender Harry Maguire, instead lauding the Manchester United star’s importance for club and country.

The pair have both faced their critics for their performances on the pitch in recent seasons. However, they have responded by becoming the Three Lions’ two most senior centre-backs.

While the likes of Conor Coady and Ben White are fighting for game time, Stones and Maguire are the key pairing.

Indeed, Gareth Southgate has trusted the Manchester City and United stars at the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020.

Stones has come into the current Nations League camp following another Premier League title-winning season for City. United captain Maguire, meanwhile, suffered as the Red Devils finished sixth.

For Barnsley-born Stones, though, Maguire – born in nearby Sheffield – deserves credit.

“I think some of the criticism that I’ve seen personally and over this season has been harsh,” Stones told a press conference.

“I don’t want to get into that but I think how he’s conducted himself on and off the pitch, he should be extremely proud of that. All I can say is, I enjoy playing with Harry and I hope that we can do for many more years to come.

“I used to play against Harry as a kid and I knew his quality then. I think he was the age group older than me but I got the opportunity to play against him and it took quite a few years to be able to play with him here.”

Stones lauds ‘incredible’ Maguire

Man City defender John Stones

Stones added that the pair built up an instant connection which has served them well as they have grown up.

“I think we hit off straight away,” Stones said. “He is an incredible person off the pitch, first and foremost, and an incredible partner and player to play with on the pitch.

“So I hope we can keep playing together and building this partnership, whoever it may be, in a back three or back four.”

Indeed, speedy full-back Kyle Walker – Stones’ City team-mate – often fills in as a centre-back in a back three. However, England’s plethora of full-back options means Southgate has no problems going with a back four.

Key pairing set to stay

Southgate likes to give players their first caps, with Leicester defender James Justin the latest to benefit.

For the more senior players in the squad, though, the manager continues to go with those who he can trust.

And Maguire and Stones have not let him down. Stones scored three times at the 2018 World Cup to help England get to the semi-finals, not to mention his defensive contributions.

Maguire netted for the Three Lions at Euro 2020 and has also proved a key player at the back.

As a result, with Maguire 29 and Stones 28, the pair will surely lead England into the 2022 World Cup providing they stay fit.