England manager Gareth Southgate is pondering a positional switch for John Stones and could ask the country’s most expensive defender to try a holding midfield role against France on Tuesday.
Southgate confirmed Harry Kane would retain the captaincy for the season-ending friendly and promised goalkeepers Tom Heaton and Jack Butland 45 minutes each in place of Joe Hart – while also announcing the latter was still his ‘number one’.
But it was his revelation that Stones, Manchester City’s £50million centre-half, was being considered in unfamiliar territory that piqued most interest.
Stones was edged out of the team that drew 2-2 with Scotland on Saturday by Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill but Southgate feels he has the requisite ball-playing skills to operate further up the pitch and may hand the 23-year-old a first opportunity to test drive the anchor role at Stade de France.
That is by no means guaranteed, with a back three also considered, but is seen as a live option in a squad that looks light in the engine room, where Eric Dier and Jake Livermore are the only specialists in a 23-man squad.
“Do I believe he can play that role? Absolutely,” said Southgate.
“I think he could do that. We had a look at that in training in fact. He’s a player who is very comfortable receiving possession, he has all the attributes to play as a holding midfield player.
“He obviously hasn’t done that yet really, so that’s a decision we have to make.
“I also think we want defenders who can bring the ball out and show composure. I think he could do either of those jobs.”
Southgate knows more than most about the demands of moving between two positions, starting his career in the centre of the park before making his name as a centre-half.
He infrequently returned to midfield duties for England, at Euro 96 by Terry Venables then – less successfully – as Kevin Keegan’s Three Lions lost the last game at the old Wembley to rivals Germany.
“When Terry did it, it was genius,” he noted with a smile.