JOHN STONES’S name does not feature alongside those of the six world champions among the alumni of the late, great Brendan Ingle.
But the impact of the revered boxing Svengali is not likely to be forgotten by the England centre-half.
The likes of Naseem Hamed, Johnny Nelson and Kell Brook will never regret walking through the doors of Ingle’s Wincobank gym, with the Sheffield venue also providing a life-enhancing education for countless other aspiring sportsmen too.
And when Barnsley felt that their precocious but raw teenage defender needed to toughen up ahead of his first foray in the unforgiving Championship there was only one place to go.
Stones’s stellar emergence on the first-team scene since the early part of this decade and his rapid progression prove that the Reds’ tough love did him no harm.
Indeed, it has played its part in taking him all the way to his maiden World Cup finals with England, with some initial fears that Stones’s lack of aggression would hinder his development having dissipated.
As one who got on Stones’s case at times in an attempt to cajole more assertiveness from the gifted defender in those early days, ex-Reds academy manager Mark Burton is also immensely glad that the ‘bad cop’ routine has reaped its rewards.
Burton, who played a big role in Stones’s development alongside ex-Reds academy chief Ronnie Branson, said: “I remember he got a bit gangly at 14, so we played him down. He became a scholar and in the first year me and Ronnie got him in after a few days and said, ‘You need to toughen up’ as he kept going down and staying down and looked a little bit soft.
“He took that on board. Then if he went down and stayed down you knew something was wrong.
“He then became a young professional and I remember Mark Robins sent him to train with the late Brendan Ingle one summer. We wanted a bit more strength in him and to toughen him up a bit more.
“Stonesy used to take the mick, but he did it in a respectful way as he did that with everybody.
“It was good for him as he came back and it made him even tougher. He ended up loving it as Brendan was great and such a good character and good for the lads.”
Stones may have needed a prompt or two to add some steel into his game, but one thing that always came naturally was an ability to pass the ball out from the back – something that was never discouraged.
It was that poise on the ball, allied to his perceptive defensive skills, which persuaded Manchester City to make him the world’s second most expensive defender behind David Luiz when he moved from Everton for £47.5m in 2016.
After passing through the equivalent of ‘finishing school’ under the watchful gaze of Pep Guardiola, Stones is now likely to be afforded the international spotlight in front of a global audience of millions in Russia in coming weeks.
Like Guardiola, Gareth Southgate will continue to implore the defender to do what comes naturally, just as Burton and Branson did back in the day.
“We wanted John to play out at all costs,” Burton added.
“We knew he would make mistakes, but we did not get on at him as he was that type of player. You had to let him get on the ball and find his niche.
“In development football we wanted players to express themselves and if they make mistakes learn from it and get better.
“Now he is at the World Cup I don’t expect him to do a ‘Cruyff turn’ in the box and he will have to defend his box. He knows there are times and places when you have to clear your lines and box. First and foremost he is a defender.
“But setting up three at the back, Gareth clearly wants to play, which is brilliant.”
There will be a palpable sense of pride in Barnsley at seeing Stones represent his hometown and country on the grandest footballing stage, moreso given an underwhelming, forgettable season for his old club, who he left for Everton in January 2013.
Given his involvement in the development of his career, Burton, who can recall Stones coming to the club as an eight-year-old from the village of Thurlstone near Penistone, will have cause to be particularly gratified at how far he has come.
The respect between the pair remains strong and their exchange of texts contains the odd bit of advice if needed.
Burton said: “For John to walk out as the England No 5 in a World Cup when you look at the England centre-halves of the past and you think he was playing on our fields at the age of eight, the learning curve would be great for him and people involved such as me and Ronnie.
“It is great for those who are at unfashionable football clubs. It shows you can get there; we could have a back three of Maguire, Kyle Walker and Stonesy.
“I have a signed England shirt at home from him thanking me for everything. He does still ask for the odd piece of advice. He asked after a game against Liverpool and said, ‘You tell me straight; what did you think?’. I remember telling him that he had not done great and got square on a couple of times.
“But he wants honesty from people and when you have grown up with him you can give that.
“But he has got the best manager in the world, so doesn’t have to ask me anything. I just let him crack on and wish him all the best before the games.”