Former Barnsley captain Bobby Hassell knew John Stones was destined for the top when he broke into his hometown club’s first team as a teenager.
Stones, 27, has formed a rock-solid partnership with Harry Maguire at Euro 2020 and is poised to make his 49th appearance for the Three Lions in Sunday’s Wembley final against Italy.
Hassell, now Barnsley’s academy manager, was skipper when Stones was fast-tracked into the senior squad at Oakwell.
“In all honesty I don’t think the club realised how big a talent they had with John,” Hassell told the PA news agency.
“Nothing had been spoken about in terms of this great young lad coming through, but he made a big impression during his first month of training with the first team.
“When we saw him, the senior pros, we did actually say that we thought the kid would go on and play Premier League and international football. You could see how composed he was in possession.
“Nothing fazed him. He was athletic, he had all the ingredients needed to be a top player.
“He only had 20 games before he went to Everton and the rest is history, but I wouldn’t necessarily say he had always been mentioned as this next top England player.”
Manchester City paid Everton around £50million in 2016 for Stones, who ended his domestic season by playing the full 90 minutes as Pep Guardiola’s side lost to Chelsea in the Champions League final.
“John was here from nine to 19 so had a good foundation here for his football career,” Hassell said. “Barnsley played a pivotal part in developing John in his early years.
“So for a little town in South Yorkshire it’s a proud moment for everyone to see him, not only playing in a Champions League final, which is the first time for a former Barnsley player, but now a European final for his country.”
Hassell said Stones always had the ideal temperament to harness his talent and handle the pressures of being a top-class footballer.
“He comes from a really good family,” Hassell said. “He’s a humble guy and he’s not changed in all honesty from when he was 18 and he’s had a lot to deal with.
“He’s had a lot thrown at him in that short space of time, six or seven years since he left here, but he’s still the same every time I speak to him.
“He’s not forgotten his roots and never will. He knows where he’s from. His close-knit friends are from Barnsley, or just outside where he was brought up.”
Hassell said Stones remains in close contact with him and Barnsley head coach Martin Devaney, who was also a Reds player when Stones made his breakthrough.
“I spoke with John last week and he knows how proud our town is of him and what he’s done,” Hassell added.
“A lot of people say nothing good comes out of Barnsley, well we’ve produced not just a really talented footballer, but a super individual.
“All the best to John. Now go and help bring home the trophy and make the whole nation proud.”