Southgate 'excited' by prospect of John Stones

Thursday 11 Jun 2015
Southgate is excited by the prospect of John Stones and his development
England Under-21s head to Oakwell on Thursday evening for their final Euro preparations in a game against Belarus.

Head coach Gareth Southgate has got his full 23-man squad together at St. George’s Park this week and focus is firmly set on the trip to Czech Republic next week.

But for Barnsley-born defender John Stones, the game also acts as a homecoming of sorts as he returns to the club where he started his career, before moving on to Everton and seeing his international career take-off. 

England v Belarus

A Vauxhall International
7.45pm, Thursday 11 June 2015
Oakwell, Barnsley FC
Live on BT Sport
Call 0871 2266777 for tickets

"He’s very exciting," admitted Southgate ahead of the game in South Yorkshire.

"Physically he is still filling out but he has great physical attributes, a good leap, he’s quick and can deal well with things one on one and is as composed as any young defender I have seen on the ball. 

"He’s really outstanding in that area, but like all of our defenders, there’s still a bit of work to be done in terms of that real understanding that keeping the ball out of the net is number one, so a pride in clean sheets. 

"We think, as a team, we have to keep developing that but everything is there to be successful. 

"He wants to be the best he can. If you are working, he is always attentive and looking back at his games and seeing what can be done better."

Southgate himself was a ball-playing defender and during his career with England, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough.

Danny Ings and John Stones warm-up for training together.

Stones warms-up for training with team-mate Danny Ings

And when asked who Stones reminded him of from his own playing days, Southgate mentioned a recently retired central defender who played for the likes of Manchester United, West Ham, Leeds United and England.

"I always think that’s difficult, because they are all individuals," explained Southgate. 

"But in terms of that comfort on the ball, Rio [Ferdinand] had that and had the ability to turn out and start again, step into midfield and use the ball intelligently. 

"I suppose Rio went through similar processes of learning to be a better, stronger defender too. That will be the bit we want to keep seeing with John."

After starting the Euro Qualifying campaign with the U21s in 2013, Stones’s form at Goodison Park saw him called into Roy Hodgson’s senior squad ahead of last summer’s World Cup.

Whilst he didn’t make the final cut for the trip to Brazil, he was a regular at the start of this campaign and now has four full caps to his name.

John Stones

Stones in action for England's senior team against Norway last year

And Southgate believes having a taste of life in Hodgson’s set-up will only inspire Stones to perform ahead of the Euros this summer.

"He will have had a feel that there is something bigger out there so this will be a stage he will look forward to," he added.

"He is a good character, another one who is an important part of the group. 

"Not just for him but for the rest of them, the lads who have been to the seniors and are now part of this, that was an important statement for the team really. 

"We are having a go, we aren’t just paying lip-service. There are five or six of them who have been to the seniors this season. 

"For a lot of them this is the last chance to play for us and they want to finish as champions."

By Nicholas Veevers at St. George's Park