Roberto Martinez has labelled Everton defender John Stones as phenomenal, and believes the youngster will become a regular for England.
The 19-year-old joined the Toffees in January 2013, when then-manager David Moyes fought off rival interest to prise him from Barnsley in a £3million deal. Stones never actually played for the Scot during his debut campaign on Merseyside, but he has been involved under Martinez who has used him 21 times in all competitions.
Indeed, the absence of key defender Phil Jagielka since the 1-0 defeat at Chelsea in February has barely been noticed in recent weeks, as the teenager has stepped up to the plate to form a solid pairing with Sylvain Distin in the heart of the back four. And whilst this may come as a surprise to some, it certainly doesn’t to his manager.
The Spaniard has long admired the talents of Stones, who he tried to sign whilst he was manager of Wigan Athletic. And now he is working with the teenager on a regular basis, he is confident that not only will the 6ft 2in centre-half go on to become a key player at Goodison Park, but he will also soon be a fixture in the England setup.
“His quality is not a surprise because I had the opportunity to follow his development when he was coming through at Barnsley and he has grown into a phenomenal footballer,” said Martinez. “We had a friendly against Juventus in pre-season and I saw then he was ready for this season. Phil Jagielka has been instrumental in giving him advice and helping him through, but as a centre-half he is as good as it gets, and he is only 19.
“We need to allow him to develop, but he’s a joy to have. He’s so calm and composed on the ball and in the same way so aggressive in his defending. We are all excited about his development. He is going to have an England role. He is going to be an important player for English football, but we need to give him time and allow him to enjoy his football.”
Stones was again in impressive form as the Toffees eased to a 3-0 win against Arsenal on Sunday afternoon. These three points put Martinez’s side within one of the Gunners in the hunt for a fourth place finish, and they also have a game in hand. And the former Wigan boss has welcomed the expectation such a lofty position comes with.
“We embrace the expectations,” Martinez added. “It’s very difficult to change the perception of which teams are going to challenge for the top four or for the title. The Premier League is the best league in world football due to the competitive edge that it has and for us to be involved in this fight is exactly what we were looking for.
“That’s been down to the good work of the players for the last 10 months, but now we’ve got 18 points to fight for and we’re realistic. We have very good momentum; we have terrific competition for places. The mindset of the players is very important. Even those who are out injured contribute in the week. We are ready, excited and we can’t wait to give everything we’ve got for the last 18 points.”