John Stones says England teammate Harry Maguire is ‘unfazed’ by current pressure and called him an ‘incredibly strong character’.
Stones was speaking to talkSPORT about his international colleague, who he’s lined up with in defence on 32 occasions, achieving huge success with runs to a World Cup semi-final and European Championship final.
Since heartbreak in last summer’s Euro 2020 final, the dynamic has changed, with Maguire coming under increased focus for his performances at club level.
The 29-year-old has lost his place as a first-choice option for Manchester United, despite still being club captain under Erik ten Hag, and that has put his England status in doubt.
However, Gareth Southgate has persisted with Maguire and named the centre-back in his World Cup squad for Qatar, despite widespread criticism.
But, for Stones, it’s an obvious choice.
“I think Harry is an incredibly strong character, first and foremost,” Stones said in an exclusive interview with talkSPORT’s Adrian Durham in Qatar ahead of Monday’s opening game against Iran.
“What he is going through doesn’t seem to phase him, which is a very good characteristic to have.”
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Citing Maguire’s successful penalty in the Euros final, Stones continued: “[He has an] incredible mentality – such a huge moment in English football.
“What he did and what he’s done for the England team, the periods of time that have been difficult, what he’s gone through and how he’s come out of that.
“I can only praise him for what he’s done and what he still does and obviously I have a lot of incredible memories with him as well, and hopefully we will make some more.”
It’s not only Maguire who come under pressure, though, but the entire squad – and in particular the defence – after a disastrous Nations League campaign.
England are on a six-game winless run heading into the World Cup, conceding goal after goal despite being water-tight at major tournaments.
However, Stones sees that as part of growing as a team, with different tactics and players part of the side’s growth.
The Manchester City defender said: “It was a bit disheartening those last four games but we’ve had a lot of personnel changes and the manager was trying out different pairings, different formations, different systems.
“That’s a process of us trying to evolve, trying to improve, and trying to find out what we can do to better ourselves.
“Sometimes that doesn’t always work and we find out the hard way, but I think sometimes when we’ve come to these tournaments, especially four years ago, we didn’t have the perception about us that we were gonna go and do anything well from the outside.
“That was a main aim of mine to change that perception about the England team, the players, whatever it might be.
“We’ve kind of united the nation in that aspect, and that comes with a bit more added pressure to deliver.
“We’ve set the bar high, but big game players play under and thrive under that pressure and we’re here as one
“I think that’s why we’ve grabbed the nation because we’re so relatable to people in whatever aspect, whatever background it might be.”