Football: Stones will be a rock

Football: Stones will be a rock
PHOTO: The New Paper

Chelsea fans should take heart. Jose Mourinho is using Stones to hold down firm roots for the future.

If the Blues buy Everton centre back John Stones, they will pull off one of the wiliest deals of the transfer window.

More importantly, their restless manager will take a tentative step into unchartered territory.

The Portuguese perfectionist is not renowned for his patience. He usually cherry picks seasoned campaigners for an upcoming campaign.

By his own admission, Mourinho rarely looks past the next signing, the next trophy or the next fixture.

He's reluctant to look past the end of his nose unless there's a winner's medal dangling from his nostrils.

But, if as expected, Chelsea return with a bid of £26 million ($55.3m) for Stones, then Mourinho sends an unequivocal message.

He's shaking off the short-term syndrome. He's thinking about the future.

Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa were ingenious signings, seemingly steered through Stamford Bridge by the guiding hand of Nostradamus.

But they were still very much part of the traditional Mourinho template.

Stalwarts

Along with Asmir Begovic and Radamel Falcao, they were immediate, silicone signings. They filled holes quickly.

But Stones doesn't fit the Mourinho model. He's only 21. He's at least four or five years from reaching his prime and Chelsea do not immediately need him after the stellar seasons of both John Terry and Gary Cahill.

The redoubtable skipper savoured one of his most productive campaigns in his 34th year, defying his critics and daring his adoring manager to replace him.

Cahill was no slouch either. Between them, they formed a wall around the Bridge, conceding only 32 Premier League goals.

They were tanks against the parked buses.

Interestingly, Louis van Gaal recently reiterated Manchester United's need for a Galactico, a rare jewel like Eden Hazard, who proved to be the difference between the two sides last season.

But there's an alternative analysis. United conceded goals. Chelsea didn't let in many. They rarely do when Terry and Cahill stand tall.

And yet, Cahill now has an enemy for life in Roberto Martinez after publicly flirting with Stones and encouraging him to move to a bigger playground to hang out with the cooler kids.

The blue half of Merseyside was not amused. But Chelsea's consistent poaching of other people's big fish should be less concerning than its changing focus.

Suddenly, the kids are all right.

Mourinho covets starlets to go with the stop-gaps.

There's little doubt that a shift in emphasis at the boardroom level has filtered down to the dugout. Owner Roman Abramovich has clearly softened, displaying a willingness to think beyond the seasonal cycle and plant seeds for future harvests.

If Mourinho is also on board with this new-found pragmatism and is equally committed for the long haul, then it's a first for both manager and master.

Stunning stats

They are persevering with the sticky Toffees even though they won't fully enjoy the fruits of their labour for a season or two.

But Stones should be worth the wait - and worth every penny if his career follows the dramatic, upward trajectory of last season.

Wise beyond his years and blessed with a talent beyond most of his Everton teammates, Stones' statistics were often astonishing.

By Easter, his pass completion rate had surpassed not only Terry at Chelsea but also every other player in the Premier League at 92.1 per cent.

He won more aerial duels than Jose Fonte, more clearances than Vincent Kompany, more blocks than Per Mertesacker and, most tellingly, more interceptions than Cahill.

Quite simply, Everton had a stronger defence when Stones was in it.

The Merseysiders conceded more than two goals in seven games last season. Stones played 90 minutes in only one of them.

Captain in waiting

Everton were also hammered 6-3 by Chelsea; 3-0 by Southampton; 3-0 by Swansea in the League Cup and 5-2 by Dynamo Kiev in the Europa League.

Stones did not feature in any of those games.

His tender age didn't make him any less of a towering asset.

Martinez knows he has a captain in waiting. Mourinho knows he has a captain to eventually replace. Stones can fill both vacancies.

But Everton can't compete with Chelsea's job perks.

Terry, Cahill and Stones would give the champions the most complete defensive spine for years to come and that should concern their rivals once the ink dries on the newcomer's contract.

For a manager who is fond of saying "in this moment", Mourinho is finally thinking about what comes next.

npsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 28, 2015.
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