When Everton manager Roberto Martinez described John Stones as “more than a footballer” in the aftermath of his team’s 3-1 win over Chelsea, the majority of the soccer stratosphere would have thought he was being typically over exuberant. But anyone who trained an eye on defender’s situation throughout the past few weeks, from an Everton point of view at least, will be quick to attest to the validity of that statement.
Keeping Stones this summer was about more than fundamental footballing factors for the Merseysiders. It was about the club showing a stance of defiance, standing up to a richer outfit and, in doing so, instilling some pride back into a fanbase that has been engulfed by a malaise . They did so, and it’s Martinez who deserves major credit.
Reading between the lines, the Catalan was the driving force behind Stones sticking around at Everton. Throughout the transfer window he was adamant the defender wouldn’t be sold, even when the player’s transfer request heaped pressure on the Toffees to cash in. In hindsight, after a raucous Goodison Park roared Everton on to a fine victory over the champions, it was a masterstroke.
Just imagine how the famous old stadium would have been with Stones coming back in a Chelsea shirt. All the anger and frustration which was flung the way of Jose Mourinho and his team would have been directed at the club’s divisive board, the manager and maybe even some of the players.
But Martinez puffed his chest out emphatically, has protected Stones superbly, and suddenly, after a tepid term in 2014-15, Everton are beginning to look like their old selves. The manager is slowly starting to win back a lot of the floating voters who cast him off last season.
It’s fair to say the fanbase was divided on Martinez at the end of 2014-15, which is natural after one wonderful campaign was backed-up by one of the most disappointing in recent memory. But his stance on Stones is one of many acts which seem to be swaying the supporters back in his favor.
Performances on the pitch are another. Aside from a dreary opening day clash with Watford, Everton have played the kind of soccer supporters crave. The team have been committed, adaptable, tenacious and dynamic in games against Southampton, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and, most recently, the reigning champions.