Their laid back nature belies the pressure they must be feeling as Manchester’s blue half first team to make it into a Champions League final.
As John Stones tries to preview Saturday’s game against Chelsea with CNN’s Darren Lewis, the City defender is photobombed by teammates Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Nathan Ake.
“I can’t do an interview here, boys,” he laughs.
From the outside it may look like this Champions League final is the culmination of five years of hard work for Pep Guardiola at Manchester, but players certainly feel differently.
“I would like to say this is the start,” Stones said. “I think it’s obviously huge for us as a club, for us as players to take that next step and make history, something that has never been done before, and I have it. says every year, that we keep moving in the right direction, keep moving forward and take the right steps forward, which is so important.
“I think that as a team we are evolving and I think the icing on the cake is obviously to win the Champions League. But I think we also have to look back, ourselves … look how good we should be proud to be.
“It’s something we have to do and something we all aspire to achieve is a Champions League final. We have reached the quarter-finals [in] my time twice since I’ve been here. The history of the club is twice as much as they have been in the semi-finals, we have taken that next step now and it would be a dream come true to lift this trophy and end such an extraordinary season, under so many circumstances. “
“I am extremely proud of myself”
Stones have formed a formidable partnership in the heart of defense alongside summer signing Ruben Dias – City ended their winning Premier League campaign with the best defensive record in the league – and are now one of the first names on the sheet of Guardiola’s team.
However, this has not always been the case.
Stones struggled to regain form for much of the 2019-20 season and his poor performances saw him give up for City and the England national team.
Dias ‘arrival last summer seemed to mark the end of the Stones’ stay in Manchester, with many suggesting that Guardiola would rather play Aymeric Laporte alongside his new signing.
So it’s a testament to Stones’ mental toughness that he was able to revive his career and has since become a mainstay of City’s defense this season. The 26-year-old’s resurgence even earned him a call-back to England for the March World Cup qualifiers, 16 months after winning his last selection.
“I think I’m proving myself, no one else, proving myself that I can,” Stones says of the inspiration behind his improved form. “That I deserve to be where I am.
“I proved to myself that I know I can be here and to my teammates, you know I want to show them and bring them what I bring to the team and I had to get out of a situation that I did I don’t want to be part of it, or no footballer wants to be part of it, and not to play or not to contribute to the team or to a club.
“I left and watched everything and fought to get back to the squad and that is because they play well and play consistently. I think, you know, I’m extremely proud of myself, but I couldn’t have done it without other people and my teammates, and I think that’s also why we’ve been so successful over the years, ”he added.
“But to look back now at the end of the season with two trophies already won, reaching a semi-final [FA Cup] and another final with the Champions League this weekend [is] something that I am extremely proud of on a personal note. “
One of the big
Guardiola has often been partially credited with Stones rediscovering his form, but the City manager has always insisted it was solely due to his player’s desire to improve.
The Spaniard – known for his intense relationship with the players – is widely regarded as one of the greatest managers of all time, but the only lingering criticism, whether unfair or not, has been his failure to win the Champions League since leaving Barcelona in 2012.
Three seasons at Bayern Munich have come and gone – Guardiola’s side have taken off in the semi-finals every time – and in the previous four seasons at City he had never been able to get past the quarterfinals. final.
The 50-year-old has at times been accused of overthinking his tactics when it comes to buying Champions League time, often to the detriment of his own team, but Stones ‘100%’ believes Guardiola is one of the great coaches of the game.
“I had a lot of good managers,” he says. “One unfortunately decided to leave Roy Hodgson, Roberto Martinez, I was with David Moyes during a short stint at Everton too, you know the list goes on from my days at Barnsley.
“But [they’re] all great managers in their own way and I think this is the longest time I have spent with one manager so I kinda see how [he is], how is his winning mentality manifested.
“I think his mentality is something I can’t describe to you, his winning mentality, his desire to improve himself, his thinking process on how to become better or to try new things and put them on. work for us as players, ”adds Stones. .
“I think his story speaks for itself and when you work for a manager who has that and has been there and done things, you immediately have that respect for him. You listen carefully because you can’t buy the experience he had and we want to capitalize on it and learn from it as well, especially on big occasions like this weekend. “
You Can Read Also