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John Stones exclusive: Mixed emotions ahead of return to Everton with Manchester City

John Stones
Image: John Stones opens up with Sky Sports' Pat Davison ahead of his return to Goodison Park with Manchester City.

John Stones opens up with Sky Sports' Pat Davison ahead of his return to Goodison Park with Manchester City.

The first thing to say is that he did it.

Just days before stepping out to the cauldron that is Goodison Park to face his former club, with his form in question and his style of play under an incredible level of scrutiny, John Stones walked in to the press conference room at the Etihad training campus ready to do an interview.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  John Stones of Manchester City (L) and Fernando of Manchester City (R) are dejected after his side concede a goal during
Image: Stones has been criticised for his performances this term

He'd probably rather have been anywhere else. But, having got into the training ground early to do it, he was polite, smiley and took every question thrown at him in his stride.

First on the agenda was his form, which he admits fell away with the team's after an excellent start.

"Definitely, my performances dipped and I made a few silly mistakes that I’ve tried to correct now," says Stones, who believes the high volume of games, 30 already in what is his first season playing Champions League football, may have played some part at least in the lapses.

"It’s only natural that these things happen, playing so many games. It's new to me, playing three games a week some weeks and I’ve got to find a way to adapt myself. Everyone’s disappointed when they don’t feel like they play well or they make a mistake. I’m the first one to hold my hand up and try and rectify that in training or the next game."

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MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: John Stones of Manchester City applauds the Manchester City fans during the Premier League match between Manchester City a
Image: The England man moved to the Etihad in the summer from Everton

Being the fairly rare specimen that is a ball-playing English centre half, it does feel like Stones' mistakes attract more attention than most, from fans and us in the media.

This, though, is not an interviewee here to hit back at his critics.

"As a player you get scrutinised and rightly so, sometimes it’s what comes with a move that I’ve made. I’ve just got to take that on the chin and concentrate on me."

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 06:  John Stones of Everton in action during the pre-season friendly match between Everton and Espanyol at Goodison Park on Aug
Image: Stones joined Everton from Barnsley four years ago

By "concentrating on me", Stones means making an extra effort to shut out what's said and written about him.

"I’ve kind of stopped listening to that side of the game. Everyone finds their little ways of getting past bad moments and everyone has them, it’s football. We get the good moments and we get stick. You can start overthinking, it's human, everyone does it.

"[Even with] friends, family, team-mates, I think the less said the better sometimes, just the odd word here and there keeps you on track."

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Manchester City 2-1 Burnley

There's a view that Pep Guardiola's frequent changes of formation and personnel may have had something to do with Stones' performances dropping off. But, according to the player, the manager's instructions could not be clearer.

"Everyone is well-drilled, there is no uncertainty about your job," says the 22-year-old, who still seems to be relishing the chance to learn from a world-renowned coach.

"We work so hard on the training pitch in every detail – in playing out, in different sections of the pitch and knowing your job from corners. Even down to simply receiving the ball with the correct foot, going down to the fine detail makes a big difference.

"It’s been a relentless few months learning wise, playing and trying to take everything in your stride but it’s been really enjoyable."

And so to his Goodison return. To be honest, I don't think even he knows if he's looking forward to it.

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Watch a preview of Sunday's Premier League action as Everton host Manchester City and Liverpool travel to Old Trafford.

"There's mixed emotions. I’ve got a lot of friends there, I played a lot of games for Everton and a lot of my family has got friends there, so it’s a big occasion for them, as it is for me," says Stones, who joined Everton from his hometown team Barnsley four years ago this month.

"It will be strange to go back, as I’m sure it is for everyone the first time they go back to face their previous club."

In almost 100 appearances for Everton, Stones experienced the sorts of highs and lows on the pitch that have already marked his time at City.

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They also featured an attempted departure to Chelsea the summer before he eventually made his way to Manchester, making the Merseyside club a huge profit on the £3m they paid for him in the process.

Because of all this, the reception he's going to get from the fans seems uncertain. However it goes, it won't change his feelings about the club which brought him to the Premier League.

"It was massive time in my career, I really enjoyed my time there, can’t say a bad word about it. It made me the player I am today, I can only thank everyone there for that."

Cool and composed, Stones didn't put a foot wrong in our interview. He'll hope his Super Sunday return goes just as smoothly.

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