Jamie Redknapp believes John Stones is the gift that can keep on giving for England this summer.
Sky pundit Redknapp has picked his England starting XI for the Euros and admits he does not envy Gareth Southgate who has got some “massive problems” because competition for places is so fierce.
But former England midfielder Redknapp says Manchester City defender Stones’ resurgence and return to form is key to the whole set-up as it has made the team more solid.
Redknapp said: “John Stones has been the gift that Gareth needed. He’s solved so many problems because he’s so calm on the ball, I’ve got so much respect for John Stones because, in football terms, he’s come back from the dead.
“He didn’t look to have a future at Manchester City, who would take him, but now he looks one of the best defenders in Europe. Playing with Ruben Dias has helped him so much, John needs calmness alongside him and he’s gone back to basics.
“By playing with someone like Dias who does the basics so well. Modern day defending went through a phase of being all about what you did on the ball. But if you look at someone like Virgil van Dijk or Dias, they also know when to clear it.
“There can be no doubt, when they signed Dias they signed him to play with Aymeric Laporte and yet John Stones has forced the issue.”
Redknapp played in Euro 96 in the last home tournament when Terry Venables used a back three, England reached the semi finals and Southgate will be desperate to go one step further.
The wing backs are key in the 3-5-2 system and Redknapp insists Trent Alexander-Arnold is world class but it could be Reece James that gets in ahead of him purely on form.
Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson would also be a guaranteed starter but, again, may be struggling to be fit in time for the Euros.
Redknapp said: “If you’d have said a year ago that Trent wouldn’t even be in the squad, people would think you were mad. If Trent thinks he’s playing well, then he’s reading it wrong.
“But if he takes this the right way then there should never be a scenario in the world where he doesn’t get picked in the squad. I feel for him because Gareth has made an example of him.
“We played a back three in Euro 96 and Kyle Walker is another big call because he’s a right back at right centre half and yet we made it work and t’s an old fashioned saying but players make the system, not the other way round.”
Walker Stones Maguire
James Rice Mount Shaw
Sterling Kane Grealish
His biggest decision by far, according to Redknapp, is who plays alongside Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling in the front three.
Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish is a huge fans’ favourite while Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden give Southgate another selection dilemma.
Redknapp added: “I think Gareth will probably go with Marcus Rashford and that third position is the toughest selection of all because of the quality there.
“I think football fans want to see Jack Grealish. People want to see a Paul Gascoigne, a player who can be a maverick, have a bit of flair, pick up the ball and run with it. Marcus has got credit in the bank and Phil Foden might not start the tournament but my guess is he’ll finish it.”
Jamie Redknapp is launching one million hours of McDonald’s Fun Football sessions for children as grassroots football returns across England. To find your nearest session, go to mcdonalds.co.uk/football
Redknapp said: “It’s been such a difficult year, the biggest challenge for any parent has been these past 12 months and you question yourself if you’ve done enough physical activity and academic work. That’s why this is such a great initiative.”