John Stones’ first season with Manchester City may not have led to the silverware he was hoping for but his own confidence has been strengthened by unexpected support from rival players.
City went trophyless last term, to the surprise of most pundits, but manager Pep Guardiola has already set about reshaping the squad with a handful of outgoings and the arrivals of Bernardo Silva and Ederson.
Stones, a record £50million signing from Everton, is sure to be central to those plans, with Guardiola repeatedly underlining his faith in the England defender’s ball-playing skills at the back even when they have led to mistakes.
England coach Gareth Southgate has been equally supportive during international breaks but, while the belief from his own managers is to be expected, Stones has been surprised to receive messages of goodwill from opponents.
“I’ve had some nice messages after games from players who I haven’t spoken to before,” he said.
“I won’t name people and drop them in it, but I’ve had messages from strikers and defenders saying that they respect and love the way I play, telling me to keep doing it and not to change the way I am.
“To hear that from players in other teams who I have not spoke to before is great for me and has given me a lot of confidence. It’s a classy touch from them as well. They don’t have to go out of their way to say that.”