John Stones 'will never stop learning' as he continues to raise the bar at Manchester City

Defender-cum-midfielder says he never looks beyond the next fixture as City aim for another treble, while European glory with England also on the horizon

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola with John Stones. Reuters
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John Stones has been likened to Franz Beckenbauer and spoken about in the same breath as England World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore while mesmerising Premier League pundits with his play for treble winners Manchester City.

Yet the 30-year-old who was named in last season’s Premier League and Champions League teams of the season, still believes he is learning and improving and insists he just takes one game at a time.

In fact the 69-times capped England defender-turned-midfielder is so focussed on what is immediately ahead of him, he admits to having no clue as to who City play beyond Manchester United this weekend.

“I don’t look at fixtures lists and work out what might happen. I only ever know what the next game is,” he said.

“I have always been like that. It means I can focus all my energy on that game and not get carried away with things. All I can control is that game right in front of me.

“As a team we have to keep taking it game by game, focus all our energy on what's in front of us, not get ahead of ourselves. Keep doing what we're doing, keep focussing on ourselves. That's our biggest quality, staying in our own lane and focusing on what we can do.”

City are on course for what would be an unprecedented double treble. A 6-2 victory over Luton Town on Tuesday propelled them into the last eight of the FA Cup (they meet Newcastle at home), they are second in the Premier League a point behind Liverpool and poised to make the last eight of the Champions League as they hold a 3-1 advantage over Copenhagen ahead of next week’s second leg at the Etihad Stadium.

Stones, like teammates Kevin de Bruyne and Erling Haaland, has missed large chunks of this season through injury, but with City on an 18-game unbeaten run he is now back at his best playing in the central defence while augmenting the attack as a number eight when play dictates.

So good was the former Barnsley and Everton man at Bournemouth last weekend that former England striker Gary Lineker described his performance as "mesmerising" and "extraordinary".

To Stones, however, it was another 90 minutes that he learnt from and another step to defending the silverware City won last season when they swept all before them at home and abroad.

“It has been a tough season mentally for me,” he said. “It’s also been frustrating but hopefully the injury problems are behind me now.

“It is so important to have everyone back and fit at the business end of the season. The lads are so focussed at the moment but enjoying it as well.

“If you are enjoying yourself everything is better. Obviously winning helps as well. All I have ever wanted is to prove to myself that I deserved to be here and play here. Once you are at City you feel part of something bigger and you want to go and achieve.

“I find it hard to talk about my place among the best this or the best that. I know my role and place and my worth to my teammates, my friends and my family and vice-versa and I think that’s the most important thing. After that if people want to put you in brackets or team of year or whatever, the opinion is other people’s not your own.

“What I do know now is how to deal with certain situations and I know my body better.

“I have looked at everything I can do; food, sleep, recovery, different gym sessions, my attitude, my game. Even now I am still learning with a new role. I don’t think I will stop learning until I finish my career, which is exciting in a way.”

Stones, who says he won’t go into coaching or management when his playing days end, is two games away from his 250th City appearance and his 30th birthday arrives in the week of this year’s Champions League final at Wembley.

He’s already a five-time Premier League winner and has added four domestic cup medals (two FA Cups and two League Cups) to his trophy haul. But pride of place goes to the Champions League winners medal he collected in Istanbul last season.

“The most memorable game was the final versus Inter Milan,” he told Man City’s official Podcast.

“I was cold going into that game. There was no real emotion. I didn’t want to overthink anything. I just wanted to leave everything I had out there on the pitch and see what happened. I loved it. Everything kind of fell into place and there was a bit of drama at the end.

“I just want to play, win as much as I can and be the best version of me that I can be. You become confident through experience and experiences. I’ve loved my new role from the start. It goes back to learning. It makes me appreciate other people's roles and positions. It gives you a different perspective. It’s broadened my appreciation of the game and my knowledge.”

His one regret is that he and his teammates have never really had much time to let any of their successes sink in. Celebrations have been short but sweet.

“I really wish we had more time to celebrate. It is one of the biggest downfalls as a player,” he said. “You get a day or two to enjoy it and then you are off to international duty. It’s difficult when so many people in the club have put so much into winning. It’s the highest high when you win something, I can’t describe it and from a selfish point of view, I wish you could stretch it out.

“Sharing the joy of winning with supporters is incredible. I have a love-love relationship with City fans I hope. Even through difficult moments for me they have been there. I always try to give everything and I think City fans appreciate that.

“Not every game is easy or goes your way but if they can see the effort and intention and you are playing with heart on sleeve they love that and that’s all I have ever tried to do.

“Making everyone proud is what we’re trying to do. We shared some incredible moments together. Without them we wouldn’t be where we are now. I feel we have clicked and I thank them for that backing.”

Manchester City celebrate their treble success with victory parade

Manchester City celebrate their treble success with victory parade

If City do win more trophies in the coming months there will be another curtailed party as Stones will almost certainly be part of an England squad, who are among the favourites to win the European Championship in Germany this summer.

“I think, without arrogance, that we have an incredible chance of winning the European Championship this summer,” he said.

“Since 2018 we have always approached things quietly confident; it’s the same here at City. We go into games humble. Knowing we have the ability to win without arrogance.

“I always feel whatever team we play we must have respect for them. Everyone has quality, anything can happen in a game. Having that approach and mindset is key. It grounds you.”

Many of his club teammates will share Stones’ aspirations to lift the trophy in Berlin this summer; one of them, the Netherlands' Nathan Ake, has quickly become one of Stones’ closest allies.

“His journey as a player from Chelsea to Bournemouth to City wasn’t easy for him and now he’s absolutely flying and I couldn’t be happier for him,” said Stones.

“He’s an incredible professional, and first and foremost an incredible person. Everyone loves him and loves to be around him. His energy is great. He has grown off the pitch and it’s followed him onto the pitch. The attributes he brings to the game are incredible. He’s so good one versus one and so is his decision making.”

Updated: February 29, 2024, 6:05 PM