John Stones has attributed his return to form with Manchester City to the summer signing of one man – and has set his side the loftiest of targets as the season enters the business end.
Stones, back in the England fold, has been discussing a great season on a personal level. Himself, Kyle Walker, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden all look good bets to make England’s European Championship squad. They all hope to do so on the back of winning four major honours with their club.
It all represents a huge turnaround for Stones. He appeared to be fading from the first-team picture when Pep Guardiola signed first Nathan Ake and then Ruben Dias.
And it was the signing of the latter that prompted Stones to have a word with himself and help engineer his return to the England fold.
Indeed, it’s Stones’ first time in the England squad since November 2019.
“It was very tough and I think it would be the same for everyone,” the 26-year-old said about watching England games on TV.
“It was difficult watching from home. You feel a bit helpless that you can’t contribute and be a part of the squad. But I used it as a motivation to strive to be better.
“When I got the text the other day, it was a great feeling to be back involved. It was nice to see all the faces I’ve got some great memories with.
“I was very nervous. I had worked so hard and I was hearing people say, ‘You should be in’. But I didn’t take any of that in until the text arrived. I wanted to hear from the source. I was absolutely made up.”
“I believe that as a club and a whole organisation we need to keep evolving and striving to be better,” he said.
“Those players coming in – and taking nothing away from them and how well they have done – it was added motivation to step up and prove my worth.
“I went away and did all the things that I needed to do. As a player, you can never rest when things are easy – everything is a challenge.”
On his England recall, Stones added: “I think I wanted to prove it to myself more than anyone else. Proving to myself was more satisfying to do.
“To go out there and show people, you have got an added pressure but the person I am trying to do it for – or prove to – is myself and that is the most satisfying thing.”
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Stones sets sights on quadruple
Guardiola could yet lead City to an unprecedented quadruple this season. The first of those chances comes in a Carabao Cup final date with Tottenham next month. They then face a meeting with Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-finals and have a place in the last eight of the Champions League. Add into the mix their 14-point lead at the top of the Premier League, and it’s shaping up nicely for City.
“Definitely,” Stones replied when asked if winning all four trophies and bringing that winning mentality into the England squad for the Euros could be key.
“I’d love everyone to be coming in camp after winning something but that’s not possible.
“But that winning mentality that if we can bring that into the England squad it would be invaluable I think.
“For the experience that we’ve been through in tournaments, especially the last World Cup that we had and how successful – I know it wasn’t successful as in winning – but successful in how we played, how far we got and how we changed the nation’s view on us in tournament football.
“So, I think it would be massive for us. If we can keep pushing and keep fighting until the end of the season and see what happens.
“But definitely the keyword is that winning mentality. Us bringing it to the England squad, as I said, would be invaluable.”