‘Reassurance’ from England boss helped John Stones emerge from difficult spell at Manchester City

Yorkshireman John Stones played more for England than Manchester City during a challenging start to the season, but he overcame it with help and reassurance from Gareth Southgate.

England's John Stones. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

The Three Lions boss has largely stuck with the group that reached the Euro 2020 final for the autumn World Cup qualifiers, despite questions over some players’ form and game time.

Former Barnsley defender Stones has been one of the main names in the latter bracket as Pep Guardiola trusted City’s other centre-backs during an injury-interrupted start to the campaign for the England international.

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The 27-year-old won four England caps across two international camps despite not playing a minute at club level, but the defender has turned a corner in the last month.

Manchester City's (left-right) Raheem Sterling, John Stones, Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker enjoyed a successful season last year.

“I feel really good,” said Stones, having started as City won 2-0 at rivals Manchester United on Saturday. “I knew I had to be patient from the start of the season with two really annoying injuries that came at a bad time in the respect of me coming back. Both times I think we had a game on a Wednesday and then I was ready on a Thursday to train again, then we have a game on a Saturday or Sunday or whenever it might be.

“There just wasn’t that amount of time to get back and obviously the team were playing well. I just knew I had to be patient and wait for my opportunity again.

“I did that and had a few good games, over recent weeks anyway, especially at the weekend, and happy to be back here (with England), yeah.”

Asked if he had spoken to Southgate during his time out of the City line-up, Stones said: “I think it was maybe last camp or the camp before that, we spoke about it.

“It was almost a bit of a reassurance, or things that I already knew and was already thinking, but just to ‘stick with it and you’ll get your time’.

“I think sometimes when you’re not playing you know why you’re not playing because of errors or bad form or whatever it might be and I knew it wasn’t anything like that.”

Stones admits he found it “relatively easy” to keep his head up during that time on the sidelines, having learned over the years to be more selfless and team-focused.

“It’s something that you’re always improving on but definitely has come with experience and time,” said the defender, who signed a new five-year deal in August.

“I think you learn a lot from difficult times and I have tried to do it with the good times as well now, knowing what it feels like when things are going well and not to go the opposite way when things aren’t.

“I think definitely, probably in a subconscious way, I have been practicing and trying to do that.

“I think it is so important nowadays that everybody is aware of that side of the game and open to doing things, which I think everyone in this room especially and in our team are more open to speaking about and actually taking steps in the right direction.”

The focus for now is keeping England on the right path, with World Cup qualification tantalisingly close ahead of matches against Albania tomorrow evening and away to San Marino next Monday.

“The last game we played against Albania wasn’t an easy one by any stretch,” added Stones.

“They caused us problems, so we never go into any game showing the team no respect.

“We give respect to every team and especially when there is so much on the line for us.”

Declan Rice has withdrawn from the squad due to illness.

Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse and Marcus Rashford of Manchester United had already returned to their clubs.