There was a time when you wondered whether, for all his efforts, the demands John Stones was making of himself, let alone those made of him by his new manager Pep Guardiola, were simply beyond the ability of a talented but error-prone English centre-back.
For a long time Stones was the man who simply refused to put the ball into safety if a risky pass was on and it cost him many times. In just his third appearance as a centre-back for England in March 2016 against Holland at Wembley, he dithered on the ball and was robbed by Vincent Janssen. The Dutch attacked and while the first shot saved but a penalty subsequently conceded by Danny Rose gave the opposition a goal.
Last season Stones became a byword for Guardiola’s militancy about possession, trying to preserve it at all costs, in all positions and with many different outcomes - although things feel different now. It would be premature to say that Stones has put the days of errors behind him because his style will always put him in positions where calamity is just a heartbeat away, but he is at least being talked about in a very different way by his England manager.
Gareth Southgate, a former England centre-back himself, compared the boy from Barnsley to the likes of Jerome Boateng and Gerard Pique and this time, no-one in the room was obliged to suppress a chuckle. The hope is that Stones has served his apprenticeship, that the errors have been spent, and he will be a part of the England team for some time to come, part of a new style.
“I’ve always said to him people will talk to you about just kicking the ball out,” Southgate said. “For me if you want to do that, that’s fine. You’ll be the same as many others. But if you want to play for me with the Under-21s, I want you to keep doing the things that make you different. And I think he is different. He has as much composure as any defender I’ve seen in Europe.