Defender was David Moyes' last signing and on Sunday he intends to thank the man who brought him into the big time
Goodison Park may be merciless in its treatment of David Moyes on Sunday but John Stones will have only thanks to offer the man under fierce scrutiny at Manchester United. Moyes' last transfer act as Everton manager was to convince the Barnsley born-and-bred defender to spurn Roberto Martínez's advances at Wigan Athletic and move instead to Merseyside. The parting gift promises to be one of his finest.
Stones' emergence as a ball-playing central defender of rare composure has been a key feature of Everton's pursuit of Champions League qualification. There has been talk of a late World Cup call for a player capped at Under-19, -20 and -21 level by England and rumours of interest from Chelsea and Arsenal. Everton's surprise and potentially damaging home defeat by Crystal Palace may have shown Stones' defensive inexperience but at 19 and only 23 games into a Premier League career, his ascent has Goodison enthralled. Moyes' role has not been forgotten.
"I will thank David Moyes for bringing me to Everton," says the teenager, whose maturity on the ball and off the pitch belies his age. "He's always gracious enough to say hello and wish us good luck for the game because he's that type of manager and I'll always thank him and his staff for what they've done for me. But we're playing against his team, he's playing against our team and we'll want to win – it's as simple as that. Off the pitch we'll congratulate each other and I'll thank him for what he's done for me but we want to win."
Everton agreed a £3m deal for Barnsley's homegrown talent on the final day of the 2013 January window. Moyes may have altered the course of the defender's career but it is only under the new manager that Stones has had opportunity to impress in the Premier League, and not only since Phil Jagielka's hamstring injury.
"I had been training in Barnsley in the morning and was driving up to Wigan after getting a call to say a bid had been accepted. Then I got another call to say Everton had also had a bid accepted. I called my family and made the decision with them, although I think my mind was made up when I knew Everton were interested. It was the club, such a successful club, the players, and you could see it going in the right direction. David assured me of those things.
"Looking back on it now, it was a difficult period. I needed to get settled as it was a big transition. For such a young lad to move to a big club, it was massive, but he and his staff were brilliant. They helped me through those six months. I was on the bench against Manchester United in the February but I never got back involved again under him. I was a bit upset about that as I really wanted to play under David Moyes."
Stones made an immediate impression under Martínez when he clipped a Panenka-style penalty over the Juventus goalkeeper Marco Storari in a pre-season friendly. "I don't know what was running through my head but I'd been practising it and the manager knew I was going to do it," he says. "Before I went up I looked over to him and he was laughing because he knew what I was going to do. Their keeper wasn't happy. He came up to me after the game and had a word but I won't say what he said."
The defender fits perfectly with Martínez's vision for Everton while offering a teenage counterargument to the theory Britain cannot produce technically accomplished players. "I've never been a long-ball player, I guess it's just been bred into me to play out," Stones says. "My dad, my whole family, were massive influences. I've got to thank a lot of the coaches at Barnsley, the youth coaches like Ronnie Branson and Mark Burton and the first-team coaches who gave me my debut, Keith Hill and Dave Flitcroft.
"From the age of 16 in the youth team at Barnsley we used to play out from the back and they always wanted to put that stamp on us, like Barcelona, I guess, with a lot of passing football. Every time there is a chance to play it out I think that's better for me and a better way to break teams down."