Former England striker Michael Owen has defended John Stones in the wake of recent criticism and believes the Everton centre-back is good enough to play for Barcelona.
The 22-year-old is widely regarded as one of England’s most promising defenders and was heavily linked with a big-money move to Chelsea ahead of the 2015-16 campaign.
A transfer never materialised, though, and Stones eventually endured a disappointing season with Everton.
The defender received his fair share of criticism following his underwhelming performances, but Owen has little doubt he has a bright future ahead of him.
“He’s probably the only player in the England squad who could walk into Barcelona’s team at the moment. He’s absolutely brilliant. Get behind him, believe in him,” Owen told BBC Sport.
“Some of the negativity surrounding Stones was because he is so much better than most other players.
“People just don’t realise that a lot of it is under control. He will make the odd mistake but so will everyone – everyone just goes on and on and on about mistakes.
“Eventually someone might start getting into his head and he might not be the player he should because of this negativity that surrounds our country so often.”
Stones is expected to be a key figure for England at Euro 2016 and Owen has urged the Everton man and his team-mates to play without fear in France.
“There will be one person that everyone’s going to gang up on – the press, the media, whatever – but you’ve got to be bigger than that, not bothered about that and actually just do what’s best for the team,” Owen added.
“Forget who’s going to cost us. There’s almost a fear of being ‘the one’ – and that then turns into a selfish attitude. You can’t be expressive, you can’t be creative. There’s been a fear over the years because we all see someone missing a penalty or someone getting sent off and costing the team. The whole country then almost gangs up on that player.
“There’s a fear amongst the squad – or there certainly was in my time – whereby you just didn’t want to be that person everybody castigates, gets vilified, and you’re the one that misses a penalty and they make a pizza advert about you.”