Stones may be a liability than lift for City
Laid-back, error-prone defender is a huge risk for City
Did you hear the one about the defender who almost doubled his transfer fee after a wretched season?
It's not a particularly original joke in the English Premier League, but Everton are certainly laughing all the way to the bank.
John Stones' meteoric rise at Goodison Park was matched by a near precipitous fall from grace.
This time last year, Everton rejected a £30m ($53.3m) bid for Stones from Chelsea. Now, the giggling Toffees are ordering Manchester City to return with a £50m offer.
Between the two transfer discussions, the man in the middle inadvertently produced the most sustained slapstick routine since Mr Bean, sliding across playing surfaces like an ice hockey puck.
The 22-year-old isn't worth £50 million, obviously. The risk is huge. But Pep Guardiola's gamble betrays a manager alarmed by City's plodding defence.
The Spanish manager champions composed ball-playing defenders who are athletic and aesthetic, easy on the eye and hard in the tackle.
At Barcelona, Gerard Pique was slowly sculpted into an attractive Guardiola disciple, devoted to the then Barcelona coach's belief that every defender should play and every player should defend in a system that dominates possession and befuddles opponents.
Javier Mascherano, raised as a defensive-midfielder, dropped the hyphen and another 20 metres and slotted in at centre back, utilising his passing abilities to fit Guardiola's template.
At Bayern Munich, Jerome Boateng and Philipp Lahm were equally comfortable on the ball. As centre back and fullback respectively, the pair understood the science behind Guardiola's possession-based game without ever compromising their art of defending.
But Stones, like City's existing crop of erratic defenders, presents Guardiola with a riddle wrapped in a wobbly back four.
EPL defenders usually defend. Their job description is limited in scope. The frenetic nature of English football seldom allows for subtlety. Paolo Maldini master classes are rarely required.
Leicester City's Robert Huth and Wes Morgan won the title with a season's worth of typically bullish displays, high on energy and aggression, but light on finesse.
Stones swaggers in from the other end of the spectrum, an almost dandyish defender with frilly collars and cuffs.
He leaves the brutish blood and guts to others, preferring (Johan)Cruyff turns in his own penalty box instead. (He pulled off the trick not once, but twice last season, against Chelsea and Spurs.)
Such maverick moments make Stones a polarising figure. He keeps fine company with Joe Cole, Glenn Hoddle and even a young Rio Ferdinand; gifted, confident playmakers who prefer to glide across pitches with the ball at their feet, a distinctly un-English way of playing.
Not surprisingly, Ferdinand has leapt to Stones' defence, insisting that the youngster must not have his inventive streak beaten out of him and arguing that foreign coaches like Guardiola favour clever defenders.
They think first, rather than go in feet first.
But Jamie Carragher has highlighted the lengthy list of foreign coaches he played under at both Liverpool and England, adding that not one of them would've appreciated a Cruyff turn in his own box.
Defenders defend. When they don't, their teams invariably lose.
And Everton lost far too many times with Stones in their back four last season. His charge sheet was a long one.
The gifted goal for Sergio Aguero in the League Cup semi-final; the dreadful back-pass against Swansea; the last-minute penalty against Stoke; missing Tottenham's long ball over the top that led to Dele Alli's wonder strike; getting mugged by Jermain Defoe and being sold a dummy by Odion Ighalo, the mistakes all led to goals.
By the time the season ended, the most-wanted defender in England had committed the most defensive errors for Everton.
Despite more than 80 appearances for the Toffees, Stones remains guilty of an occasional rush of blood and poor positioning.
But Guardiola is desperate. And Everton can smell the desperation, not to mention the money.
Aleksandar Kolarov was used at centre back, alongside Nicolas Otamendi, in pre-season friendlies and the City manager has even said that midfielder Fernandinho could follow in Mascherano's footsteps and fall back.
But the ploy suggests a lack of alternatives, rather than a bold coaching move.
Guardiola's philosophy usually depends on a creative, ball-playing defender.
But he could be about to spend £50 million on a ball-playing defender who can't always defend.
WHAT THEY SAY
“Stones has the ability, I believe, to become one of the greatest defenders this country has produced but here’s the thing: When I think of great defenders, two words come to mind — clean sheets.”
— Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher
“John Stones would be wonderful working with Guardiola... he’s been doubting his ability for the last 12 months or so and he just needs somebody to go and say, ‘Okay, this is what you need to do’.”
— Spanish football expert Guillem Balague