John Stones — Rolls-Royce of a defender
John Stones is unfairly made the scapegoat for Guardiola's bizarre team selections
Opinions in football seem to change more often than my missus in the half hour before we go out for dinner.
Ahead of England's 2014 World Cup clash with Uruguay, journalist Martin Lipton of the UK's Daily Mirror newspaper wrote a positive piece accompanied by the headline: Whatever the outcome, Roy has delivered.
Roy Hodgson's side had been beaten by Italy in their opening group game, but the performance was uplifting and boded well for the future.
Lipton could see that this was an England team in transition, and that the building blocks were in place for a bright future.
The following day, after England's 2-1 defeat by Uruguay, Lipton called for Hodgson to be sacked.
His swift about-turn reminded me of Hall of Fame boxing promoter Bob Arum, who, in 1981, was involved in a heated debate about who the better fighter was - Thomas Hearns or "Sugar" Ray Leonard.
Once Arum had finished his impassioned speech, one wag pointed out: "Hey, last night you said Leonard was better, and now you're saying it's Hearns?"
Arum infamously smiled and replied: "Well, yesterday I was lying. Today, I'm telling the truth."
Which brings me to John Stones. It's difficult to remember a footballer who polarises opinion as much as the Manchester City defender.
For me, Stones is a Rolls Royce of a footballer.
Before Stones' mega-bucks move to City, Barcelona star Gerard Pique said: "John Stones is a really, really good player. He's a bit like Rio Ferdinand.
"Now the position of the centre back is not just about defending or being nasty or tough.
"It's about knowing how to play football, control the ball, pass and be more comfortable in possession. Stones is one of the new generation who understands football."
Pique makes a great point.
In days gone by, centre backs had to be big, ugly, nasty beasts (think Brian Kilcline).
However, modern-day defenders must have much more in their locker - it's now vital to be comfortable on the ball, be prepared to accept possession from the goalkeeper and launch attacks.
Yes, Stones may have dropped the odd clanger - clangers that are magnified when you play at the back or in goal - but he epitomises the modern-day defender.
Of course there is room for improvement.
Last weekend, he was responsible for gifting Jamie Vardy his hat-trick goal in City's 4-2 defeat by Leicester, but by then, the game was well and truly lost.
I would argue that the match was lost from the moment Pep Guardiola handed in a team sheet that saw Stones lining up in a flimsy three-man defence alongside two fullbacks.
There was nothing complicated or surprising about Leicester's attacks - launch a quick ball over the top or down the channel and ask Vardy to chase it. We saw it a thousand times last season.
However, Guardiola's bizarre team selection made it appear to the naked eye as though City were being pulled from pillar to post by his Barcelona and Bayern teams of yesteryear.
Following that resounding defeat, Stones was, rather predictably, made the scapegoat, and dropped for the midweek game with Watford.
Guardiola reinstated an old school back four and, lo and behold, his multi-million pound team eked out three previous points and an equally important clean sheet.
The prosecution against Stones rested its case; he was obviously the guilty party.
Earlier this week, I was talking football with a Stoke fan (yes, they do exist in Singapore), who argued that Ryan Shawcross would be a better bet than Stones in the England team.
I swiftly pointed out that Shawcross had been given a chance with England in a friendly against Sweden in November 2012.
England were leading 2-1 after 74 minutes when the Stoke stopper replaced Steven Caulker at the heart of the Three Lions' defence.
Sixteen minutes later, England trudged off 4-2 losers - the man Shawcross was tasked with marking, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, claimed all four goals.
My friend from Stoke promptly changed his mind.
- Richard Lenton is the lead presenter at Eleven Sports Network. Join Richard and his studio guests for Eleven's live coverage of the Premier League, which includes tonight's clashes between Crystal Palace and Chelsea (8pm), and Stoke City versus Leicester (11pm), as well as tomorrow's big showdown between Man City and Arsenal (11.30pm). For more details visit www.elevensports.sg