Rio Ferdinand claims John Stones’ progress at Manchester City has been hampered by Pep Guardiola’s tactical demands and the injury-enforced absence of Vincent Kompany.
Stones, 22, has endured a difficult first season at the Etihad Stadium following his £47.5 million summer arrival from Everton, with the England international at times having been forced to sit on the sidelines with Guardiola selecting left-back Aleksandar Kolarov at centre-back.
Stones continues to be regarded as one of the brightest young prospects in English football, despite the teething problems at City which have led to accusations of over-playing and an inability to focus on the defensive side of his game.
But Ferdinand, who became the world’s most expensive defender when completing a £27.1m move from Leeds to Manchester United in 2002, believes that Stones’ development will take time at City due to the demands placed on him by Guardiola.
“It’s about different styles and Stones has clearly been asked to go out there and take risks, and I admire that,” Ferdinand said. “I’d like to have played under Guardiola because I would have enjoyed going out there and taking the ball.
“But it’s about balance and getting that right. What the manager is asking particular players to do is the difference and that’s why Stones needs a Vincent Kompany next to him because the centre-halves he is playing with are not experienced enough in this country.
“He hasn’t set the world alight, nor has Nicolas Otamendi, but if Kompany had been fit enough to play alongside him, it would have helped him and guided him because he is still a young player coming into a new team.
“It’s easier for attacking players coming into a new club for big money — they just need the ball to go into the net off the back of their backside to get a bit of confidence. But when you are a centre-half, you have to make your own confidence.”
Ferdinand says he was forced to change his game at United after taking too many risks while at previous clubs West Ham and Leeds.
But the BT Sport pundit believes that it is more difficult for Stones to make the transition with City.
“When you go to a big club for big money, it isn’t easy,” Ferdinand said. “John Stones has gone to a new team with a new manager, where everybody is unsure about what they are doing. They are searching for the right formula under a new manager and it is difficult.
“At United, I went into a team where everyone knew their roles, but it was still a challenge for me. The problem is that I went there thinking about how many skills I could do on a pitch rather than clean sheets.
“I think Stones is still having more concerns about the football side of the game rather than defensively. They have more of the ball than teams they play against too, so there is a lot of information to take in if you are a Pep Guardiola centre-half — things like splitting to get the ball and then, ‘What is the next phase after that?’
“At United, I toned my game down rather than being on the front foot. It was more about my first thought being ‘clean sheet, where are we defensively, concentration, etc,’ then the football stuff came naturally.
“But I think Pep asks more of his centre-halves on the ball than in the teams I played in, so it is a big ask and it is harder because of that. My position when I didn’t have the ball was to be in a position to stop the counterattack, whereas it seems Pep Guardiola says and wants differently.”