England defender John Stones describes it as a weight off his shoulders to be enjoying his football at Manchester City after a breakdown of communication with Roberto Martinez marred his final season with Everton.
Stones joined City in a £47.5 million deal over the summer, a huge sum that reflects the 22-year-old’s youth, potential and nationality but not necessarily his recent experiences.
He was part of an underachieving Toffees side who finished 11th last year and were frequently accused on being defensively disorganised.
Martinez, who was sacked late in May before becoming Belgium boss, did not even consider Stones undroppable, sidelining him on several occasions during February and March.
Stones is clearly loving his early days at the Etihad Stadium, where he has been parachuted straight into Pep Guardiola’s first XI, but he acknowledges times got tough at the end of his spell at Goodison Park.
He stopped short of criticising Martinez directly but his dissatisfaction is palpable, particularly when discussing his time out of the side — and the apparent lack of explanation he received.
“Since last summer it has been a journey, I suppose … It’s a weight off my shoulders now that I know where I am, settled, and enjoying my football,” Stones said.
“Maybe things weren’t just working out [at Everton]. It was a tough period because I was doing everything right, I was being professional, I was carrying myself well. I wanted to do everything right, try to get in the team how everyone should and fight for my place.
“I felt I was doing everything I could and deserved to play and still wasn’t. That’s when I found it hard. It’s probably a question you should have asked the manager at the time because he wasn’t telling me.
“Roberto had his style of play and kind of changed that towards the end of his career at Everton. He changed the whole style of the team and things weren’t working out at that time so you could say it wasn’t the best decision.
“As you know, the gaffer got sacked. It wasn’t enjoyable. We weren’t winning games. When we don’t do that a few games on the trot, it starts to eat away at you, no matter who you are. It was a good test for me. I learned a lot about my football, about myself.
“I felt it was right to move on to work under the best manager in my eyes.”
While Stones moved on to the bright lights of the Etihad Stadium and the Champions League, his Everton teammate Ross Barkley remained at the club.
Barkley has started the season well, with two goals in four games, but was the odd man out when Sam Allardyce named his first England squad.
“I’ve not seen Ross for a while and it’s tough because I was close to him at Everton,” said Stones.
“Ross is a top player and a top guy off the pitch as well. I would have loved him to be here [with England] but that’s not down to me and I’m sure Ross will work hard to make sure he will be in the next squad.
“Ross has got that attitude where he will not let it get him down at all. He will go out and work even harder.”