MANY footballing pundits are confidently predicting a huge post-World Cup future for John Stones with England; former Barnsley manager Keith Hill takes a somewhat different view.
Hill feels Stones’s time should be now and not tomorrow... and in the Three Lions’ first team.
Stones was placed on England’s standby list as cover for Phil Jones and despite the fact the Barnsley-born defender heads home after tomorrow’s friendly against Honduras, he can already reflect on an outstanding summer, even though it has only just begun.
The 20-year-old picked up senior caps against Peru and Ecuador, with his star shining in a major way, regardless of him not making the final squad.
Hill, who handed Stones his Reds bow as a 17-year-old in March, 2012, says if he had his way the defender would not just be in the party in Brazil, but in the first XI.
The Rochdale chief said: “If it was down to me, I would play John in this World Cup as I think he is so comfortable on the ball.
“One thing I think we have to do, especially with the World Cup being in South America, is be a possession-based team and John Stones fits that bill of a player to play in such a role.
“I think central defence is where he will play ultimately. He is so accomplished on the ball.
“As well as being an excellent defender with pace, I think his stand-out quality is being a modern-day footballing defender with technical qualities.”
This time last year, Jones was part of the England Under-20 squad which competed in the World Cup in Turkey, ahead of his elevation to the Under-21s.
Current Under-21 manager Gareth Southgate has since spoken effusively of both Stones’s technical credentials and character as a person, hailing him as a “dream to work with”.
This week, Stones’s former Reds team-mate Stephen Foster labelled him as a “Rolls-Royce” of a footballer and Hill concurs.
Hill added: “John is a tremendous player to work with, but, more importantly, he is a tremendous person.
“He is a player who always had enthusiasm to get on the training pitch and he was an absolute credit to himself and Barnsley Football Club and his family.
“The way he has played and conducted himself at Everton in a central defensive position has shown his enormous rise, which he is taking in his stride.
“I think he has taken it in his stride because he is such a good person. I speak with people who are working with him at Everton and they can’t speak highly enough of him, with respect to his character, personality and professionalism.
“I knew 100 per cent within our first year at Barnsley that we had to protect and then integrate John. But it was obvious he was going to be a stand-out player.
“In the second season, we came back in pre-season and we knew straightaway that he would play that year.
“It wasn’t a question of him being so young, but just nurturing and developing him. We knew that there was definitely a superstar there, 100 per cent.”
Stones was handed his England senior debut two days after his 20th birthday, in last Friday’s 3-0 win over Peru, and was watched by many of his family members at Wembley.
Stones made a second appearance, as a substitute, in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Ecuador in Miami and will fly home after tomorrow’s friendly.
Everton’s £3m signing in January last year seems certain to play a major role in England’s future after Brazil.