Getty Images

Pep Guardiola’s latest success story: John Stones

1 Comment

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end.

The beginning of this story features a bumbling fool of a defender, and an expensive one at that. The beginning of this story also features a bumbling fool of a soccer writer. That would be me.

*record scratch* You’re probably wondering how I got here. Let me explain.

The first tweet above refers to a goal Jermaine Defoe scores for Sunderland (remember them?) on the opening day of the 2016/17 season. Manchester City won the game 2-1, but it wasn’t Stones’ best moment since arriving at Manchester City just four days prior. Jack Rodwell receives the ball about 23 yards from goal, and Stones steps to close him down, leaving acres of space behind him. Bacary Sagna (remember him?) does poorly to stay with his man Defoe, but the Sunderland poacher immediately occupies the space vacated by Stones and scores on the through-ball which the England defender fails to prevent.

Mistakes like this were all too common for Stones, who cost a heaping $64 million from Everton. He was still just 21 years old at the time, and looked completely lost. He was billed as a defender who could play with the ball at his feet and thus would fit perfectly into Pep Guardiola‘s system. Man City’s own club release announcing the signing referred to him as “one of the world’s most promising centre backs” and specifically mentioned “Stones has built a reputation as a ball-playing, 21st century defender, equally adept at neutralizing opposition attacks as launching the first key pass out of the defensive third.”

None of that was evident at the start. I jumped to conclusions.


Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The middle features just two words: Pep Guardiola.

Pep Guardiola has morphed John Stones into one of the world’s best central defenders at just 24 years old. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The end of this story is not yet written, but there is an outline for sure. John Stones, the bumbling 21-year-old who made countless positional mistakes and looked hopelessly lost in Pep Guardiola’s system, is now one of the world’s best central defenders. No, that’s not a hyperbole. He’s a strong Team of the Season candidate and one of the first names on the teamsheet of one of the Premier League’s best-ever constructed squads. Adding to the resume, he was a critical member of England’s World Cup squad that made the semifinals.

Case in point, his performance against Liverpool, which was fabulous. First, the obvious: Stones completed 94/99 passes, was a perfect 9-of-9 clearing the ball, won both his aerial duels, was not dispossessed once, and helped keep Roberto Firmino to a generally minimal threat, with the Brazilian’s goal only coming while he was marked by Vincent Kompany.

To dig a little deeper, here’s just one more fine-tuned reason why Pep loves Stones. This astute find from Statsbomb writer Nico Morales shows how his vision has not just improved, but taken a leap of faith.

Nico is exactly right. Stones connected with left-back Aymeric Laporte seven times in the game, all switches of play from Stones at RCB to Laporte on the left flank. That pass is vital to Manchester City as they look to break Liverpool’s press. That pass is meant to be taken away by the high positioning of the striker (in this case, as Morales points out, Salah), but Stones managed to find it anyways. In addition, Stones found Leroy Sane on the left flank three times, an even more difficult alleyway to navigate.

In addition, Stones no longer makes the positional mistakes we became so numb to his freshman year at the Etihad. Last year during their dominant title run, Manchester City conceded a league-low 27 goals through the 38 matches, and while Stones struggled that campaign with injuries, he put in nine full-90 minute performances in Premier League play, six of which finished in clean sheets.

Stones’ most notable play of the Liverpool match was a perfect encapsulation of his career path at Manchester City. After being admittedly beaten by Sadio Mane, he put enough pressure on the Liverpool winger to (together with a charging Ederson) force him into hitting the post. Stones then attempted to clear the ball by clattering it straight into Ederson’s body, looping the ball towards his own net. He then rushed back to clear the ball off the line, literally millimeters (11 of them, to be exact) from the game’s first goal.

He’s not the sexiest player on the field. In the win over Liverpool, Bernardo Silva got plenty of (deserved) plaudits for running his absolute socks off (he ran the furthest distance of any player in any Premier League match this season). Sergio Aguero scored a ridiculous(ly important) goal. Leroy Sane’s winner came from a moment of far-post ingenuity. Even Vincent Kompany was lauded for his hard work, his clearing ability, and his physical tenacity that nearly netted him a sending off. Stones, on the other hand, plods along doing the little things that help the Man City Machine continue to churn. It’s not even dirty work – which often earns recognition in its own right (see: Silva, Bernardo) – it’s just plain old work.

While many consider Raheem Sterling‘s development as Pep Guardiola’s most impressive individual coaching job at Manchester City – and there’s a good argument to be made there – it is of this writer’s belief that Guardiola’s crowning achievement thus far at City is the building of The Stones Wall. From 21-year-old project (a “poor buy” as one nameless dope put it) to 24-year-old superstar, John Stones has truly developed into one of the world’s best central defenders, and there’s still room to grow.

And for that, I owe him an apology.

Report: Ajax in negotiations to sign El Tri’s Alvarez

Getty Images
Leave a comment

One of the Mexico National Team’s brightest stars appears to be heading to Ajax, where he could potentially be the replacement for one Matthijs de Ligt.

According to a report in Voetbol International, a publication in the Netherlands, Ajax technical director Marc Overmars confirmed the club’s interest in signing Club America and El Tri defender Edson Alvarez. Club America are reportedly demanding nothing less than nearly $17 million for Alvarez, who has in just two years become a regular for El Tri.

[READ: USMNT’s Boyd signs with Besiktas]

The report states that Wolverhampton Wanderers – which has Alvarez’s El Tri teammate Raul Jimenez – and PSV Eindhoven were also interesting in signing Alvarez.

The 21-year-old made his debut for Club America as a right back under long-time Liga MX manager Ricardo La Volpe in 2016, and just a few months after his club debut, he was already playing for the national team. He was included and featured at the 2017 Gold Cup, becoming Mexico’s youngest scorer in the competition (at age 19) and he then started all four of Mexico’s games at the 2018 World Cup, including against Neymar and Brazil in the Round of 16.

Alvarez has continued his strong play over the past year and has moved into more of a centerback and holding midfielder role at times. He played as a No. 6 for Mexico in its 1-0 win over the U.S. Men’s National Team at the 2019 Gold Cup final, at times dropping into the back line to defend while providing support in the attack.

As Alvarez is still young but continues to grow, it’s a perfect time for him to join Ajax. There, he’ll face even better attackers than in Liga MX, and he’ll have a lot of responsibility on his shoulders to play for a prestigious club like Ajax. The pressure to perform will only make him better, like it’s helped countryman Hirving “Chucky” Lozano across the Netherlands at PSV Eindhoven.

Interestingly, Alvarez would be the second summer signing for Ajax with a North American connection. Defender Kik Pierie was actually born in Boston, while his father was studying at Harvard Medical School, though he’s been raised almost entirely in the Netherlands and has featured for the Oranje internationally.

USMNT’s Boyd signs with Besiktas

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Add another American to the list of players who will be playing in UEFA competitions this fall.

Turkish giant Besiktas announced on Monday that it had signed winger Tyler Boyd to a four-year contract in a transfer from Portuguese side Vitoria Guimaraes. Boyd has had a pretty impressive last six months, from scoring six goals in 14 games with Ankaragücü in the Turkish Superlig on loan, to scoring goals and making the Gold Cup roster for the U.S. Men’s National Team.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

The New Zealand-born pacey winger completed a one-time switch to play for the USMNT in May, and he went on to score a brace in the USMNT’s Gold Cup opener against Guyana. While Boyd made five appearances for the U.S. this summer, he was left on the bench as the U.S. bowed out to Mexico, suddenly appearing out of Berhalter’s plans as quickly as he entered them.

Regardless, this is a great move for Boyd, assuming he can get some first team minutes. It’s a big step up from Ankaragücü to play for Besiktas, which not only includes the heated Istanbul derbies against Fenerbahce and Galatasaray, but next season will also include at least six matches in the UEFA Europa League. By finishing third in the Turkish league, Besiktas earned a place direct in the Europa League group stage.

Of course, like we saw this summer with the USMNT, Boyd has to break into a more talented group of players and earn minutes, both for league and European matches. If he’s not playing much, it’s possible we won’t see much of him with the national team, as Jordan Morris gets regular playing time as well as others in that position like Timothy Weah, Corey Baird and possibly Kenny Saief, now that he’s back with Anderlecht.

Boyd is undoubtedly a talented player. Hopefully, this move up in stature and pressure can help the 24-year-old take his game to a new level.

Report: Manchester United “miles” apart on Maguire deal

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Yesterday, the English tabloids exploded with reports that Manchester United was nearing a deal with Leicester City to make Harry Maguire the most expensive defender in the world with a $100 million deal nearly completed. Some even went so far as to suggest a medical would take place on Monday – today.

Now, there seems to be an about-face as ESPN senior writer Mark Ogden reports that the two sides are “miles away” on a potential deal, as his source describes it.

According to the report, Manchester United’s last bid of $50 million is much closer to their valuation of the player, and while Leicester City is holding out for a world record bid, the two sides have not made much movement towards an agreement. They are willing to go up to $75 million with another bid, but that is still well off the Leicester City price tag.

Ogden writes that Manchester United’s first choice was Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt, but he is nearing completion on a move to Juventus, and if the reports over the last few weeks are to be believed, Manchester United was never really in play. De Ligt was handed significant wages at Juventus, something Manchester United may not have been willing to do.

They turned their sights towards Maguire, but with three weeks left in the transfer window, there apparently needs to be significant work done on a deal to move it across the finish line. Ogden writes that there is “confidence” within Manchester United that Maguire wants the move, but that’s nothing if the two clubs can’t come to an agreement.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: James to Atletico, Rondon to China

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It has seemed for weeks that James Rodriguez is just a formality away from becoming a Napoli player, with Real Madrid motivated to offload the Colombian and Napoli appearing equally as excited to bring him on. However, as the weeks drag on without any official announcement, things may have begun to sour.

According to a number of reports in Spain, Real Madrid were upset with Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis due to comments made by the Italian. With Real Madrid insisting any would-be suitor pony up immediately with a permanent deal, de Laurentiis went public with his insistence on a loan with an obligation to buy. “We are all prepared to make sacrifices for James Rodriguez, but we ask Real Madrid to make them too,” de Laurentiis said to Sky Sport Italia. “We’ve not given up, but in order to break the ice we need Madrid to consider that rather than have an unhappy player sitting around, they should send him out to play. Perhaps on loan.”

That reportedly upset Real Madrid enough to the point where they have shifted focus to Atletico Madrid, willing to deal with a direct rival rather than capitulate to Napoli’s wishes. The reports also state that Rodriguez is on board, growing frustrated with Napoli’s wavering desire for his services. Atletico is also an attractive destination for the Colombian given the gap up front created by the departure of Antoine Griezmann. They have spent all the Griezmann money on Portuguese youngster Joao Felix, but with such a departure, there is always a power vacuum Rodriguez could exploit.


According to Lyall Thomas of Sky Sports, Championship side West Brom has agreed to sell Salomon Rondon to Chinese club Dalian Yifang where he will reunite with manager Rafa Benitez.

The report states the deal between the clubs is done and the player now must agree to personal terms, with the possibility for official confirmation of the deal in as little as 48 hours. It is unclear what the value of the deal is, but Sky mentions that Rondon has a release clause in his contract worth $20.6 million.

Rondon spent last season on loan at Newcastle with Benitez after West Brom was relegated the season before. He was a superb creative force, scoring 12 goals across all competitions, good for second on the team behind Ayoze Perez. The 29-year-old is an experienced attacker with 78 international caps for Venezuela.


Sheffield United is preparing for its first season in the Premier League since the 2006/07 campaign, and they are looking for reinforcements to bolster their lineup and avoid the straightaway drop they faced last time in the top flight. Having already broken the club transfer record by acquiring Callum Robinson from Preston North End for $10 million, they are now looking to beat that number again.

According to The Guardian, the Blades had a $19 million bid for striker Oli McBurnie rejected by Swansea City. The Championship side is reportedly desperate to keep the 23-year-old after already offloading Daniel James to Manchester United.

McBurnie, a Leeds-born Scottish international, scored a massive 22 goals for the club in 42 Championship appearances last season as the club finished ninth in the table, plus he another two in a pair of FA Cup games. He first arrived at Swansea in the summer of 2015 in a deal with Bradford and was loaned out three separate times before sticking with the first team last season.


Roma technical director Gianluca Petrachi has issued a hands-off warning for Tottenham target Nicolo Zaniolo, saying the defender isn’t for sale.

“I have to work to try to get the best out of Zaniolo,” Petrachi said during a press conference for Leonardo Spinazzola’s unveiling. “I am also a very practical person, I have direct contact with my players. I never put Zaniolo up for sale, nor did I say it was on the market. The market is full of surprises, but today Zaniolo is not on the market.”

The 20-year-old joined from Inter last summer and signed a contract through the summer of 2023. There have been reports that Spurs are circling due to Zaniolo’s unhappiness with Petrachi reportedly breaking off new contract negotiations upon his arrival. There were even rumblings of a swap deal for Spurs defender Toby Alderweireld.

The youngster was a mainstay for Roma last season once he earned a starting place in early November, making 27 Serie A appearances and scoring four goals.