By Alex Stevens
John Stones has been hailed as the top defender in England by Gerard Pique.
The Spain World Cup winner believes the Everton star is among a new breed of English centre-backs that can match the best on the Continent.
Stones, 21, was the subject of a sustained attempt by Chelsea to prise him away from Merseyside during the summer but has settled down to provide further evidence of his immense potential.
Asked who has caught his eye in his centre-back position in England, Pique said: “Rio Ferdinand and John Terry were the two main central defenders in England. Top-level. Now I think John Stones is a really, really, good player. He will have a good career.
“He’s like Rio, a bit. He’s young and alongside him they probably need one who is more experienced. [Phil] Jagielka is injured. But [Chris] Smalling is playing well at Manchester United.”
Pique, 28, who has been a mainstay of the Spain and Barcelona teams that have dominated club and international football over the last decade, explains how defending has changed during his time in the game.
“Now the position of the centre-back is not just about defending or being nasty or tough,” he said. “It’s about knowing how to play football, control the ball, pass and be more comfortable in possession.
“And this is something that 10 years ago [in England] they didn’t understand. Rio was the first one who did it. And now there is Stones, he’s one of the new generation who understand football not just as a defender.
“The centre-back is the first attacker, the first one who builds the attacking play. Then the ball goes to the midfield and the midfielders find the strikers. So the defenders start to generate.and create the chances.
“It’s hard because it’s about changing everything to understand football. But it’s getting better [in England]. It’s a different philosophy.”
By Alex Stevens