Ahead of last year’s resumption of international football, John Stones was determined to force his way back into the England set-up.
Trouble was most judges thought he would not even force his way onto Manchester City ’s bench.
Key man Aymeric Laporte was back to full fitness, Nathan Ake had been signed for £40million and over £60million was about to be spent on Ruben Dias.
Also, Pep Guardiola was not averse to dropping Fernandinho in at centre-back.
There was talk of Stones being shipped out of the Etihad.
A few months later and Stones is once again a major component of Pep’s winning machine and back in favour with Gareth Southgate.
Understandably, he is proud of his fightback.
“Those players coming in was added motivation to step up and prove my worth,” explains Stones.
“I went away and did all the things that I needed to do. As a player, you can never rest, even when things are easy – everything is a challenge.
“I saw this as a challenge – a challenge to fight and a new challenge to retain a spot.
“I think I wanted to prove it to myself more than anyone else. Proving to myself was more satisfying.
“To go out there and show people, you have got an added pressure, but the person I am really trying to do it for – or prove to – is myself.”
Stones last featured for England against Montenegro in November, 2019, his one and only appearance since a calamitous performance against the Dutch at the Nations League finals in the summer of that year.
Some, including his club team-mate Kevin de Bruyne, think Stones was unfairly vilified after that defeat, with Southgate unceremoniously dropping him for the next match.
But Stones has no qualms with the way Southgate, who has also sidelined and recalled the likes of Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier and has now bombed out Trent Alexander-Arnold, is unafraid to axe established players.
Stones said: “I think it is the sign of a good manager … every manager has got to have that ruthless streak in their DNA.
“I think it’s making tough calls, making calls that maybe some people don’t think are right at times, sticking by them and believing in himself.
“From my experience, all the managers that I’ve been with have had a ruthless streak and made big calls.
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“As players, we respect that because he’s always been honest and open with us.
“And as long as you’ve got that, then you know where you stand and that’s a credit to him.”
Stones says he would love to play in all three of the upcoming World Cup qualifiers but however many he features in, the 26-year-old Manchester City defender is certain to add to his 39 caps.
And when his call-up was confirmed, he was just as excited as he was when he got the nod for the first time.
He said: “It was a relief. I was very nervous. I had worked so hard and I was hearing people say I should be in but I didn’t take any of that in until the text arrived.
“I was waiting for the text to see if I was in. Time goes a bit slower when you are sat about waiting for something to happen. It was a special moment. A really special moment.”
And a moment a determined Stones had certainly earned.