When England beat Ukraine 4-0 at the Euro 2020 quarter-finals in Rome, John Stones helped the Three Lions keep a clean sheet for a fifth successive tournament game.  

That shutout broke the record for most consecutive tournament clean sheets set by Bobby Moore back in England’s only major triumph back in 1966.  

While there have been some England greats in the backline among the generations that followed, it was significant to surpass Moore, a legend that remains the iconic symbol of stylish and intelligent defending.  

Think Wembley in ‘66 when he calmly picked out Geoff Hurst for the fourth and final goal rather than hoofing the ball clear, or that perfectly-timed tackle on Brazil’s Pele at Mexico ‘70. 

Comparisons with the only England player to ever lift the World Cup may be unfair, but there are notable characteristics in the City centre-back that show he shares the same instincts for cultured defending.  

Learning under one of the greatest coaches that football has ever known in Pep Guardiola, Stones’ game has improved year-on-year, not only helping us to secure a plethora of trophies since his arrival in the summer of 2016, but as a mainstay of the national team that has gone as close as any to repeating the success of Moore and the heroes of ‘66.  

Football intelligence has become more important than ever for defenders particularly when playing for a manager such as Guardiola, whose sides dictate possession.  

Pep's Barcelona dominated club football during his four years at the Camp Nou, winning two Champions Leagues, and Gerard Pique was his brains in defence.  

On the eve of a Spain friendly with England in 2015, Pique was tasked with picking his world XI.  

Then with Everton, Stones’ modern, ball-playing approach had won him plenty of admirers and his  inclusion in Pique’s all-star team evidenced the high regard he was held in across Europe. 

"Now the position of the centre-back is not just about defending or being nasty or tough. It’s about knowing how to play football, control the ball, pass and be more comfortable in possession,” the Spaniard said. 

“And now there is Stones, he’s one of the new generation who understand football not just as a defender.” 

It could be argued that one of the main reasons why Pique included Stones was down to the 2010 World Cup winner noticing traits of himself in the Yorkshireman.  

When Stones came through the ranks at his hometown club Barnsley, former Head of Academy Coaching Mark Burton would often challenge Stones to watch Guardiola’s Barca. 

That homework alongside training sessions at Oakwell, would see the Tykes unearth a generational talent. 

“I would reference Pique and [Javier] Mascherano at Barcelona because they just wanted to play,” Burton tells mancity.com. 

“I’d watch them and ask John did you watch Barcelona last night? Pique stepping in, stepping up, [playing] little one-twos with [Sergio] Busquets and [Andres] Iniesta. 

“We really hit home every day about possession-based football. Possession at all costs. Some days, we wouldn’t play with a centre-forward. 

“With John, there was a lot of natural ability. You test players like that. 

“We gave him that licence and the way he stepped in at under-18s, he was like an absolute Rolls-Royce. He’d gallop and glide along the ground. Did it always come off? No. Did we always encourage it? Of course, we did.” 

After leaving Barnsley for Everton in 2013, Stones’ inclusion in the England set-up came soon after – making the step up to the senior team following appearances for the Under-19s, 20s and 21s.  

During Roy Hodgson’s spell in charge of the national team, the defender would suffer multiple setbacks. He was left out of the 2014 World Cup squad in Brazil before being left on the sidelines throughout the 2016 European Championships in France.  

Better things lay ahead for Stones.  

Going into the 2018 World Cup and after two years under the nurturing of Guardiola, Stones acknowledged that the art of defending had changed in the English game due to the City manager’s influence on the Premier League.   

“I think we try to bring all the attributes and what we learn under Pep into the England squad, and we are open to learn from Gareth [Southgate] as well,” he said ahead of the tournament.  

“It stands us in good stead. We work hard on the training pitch under Pep, learn a lot of things, different styles of play, how to play against different formations. 

“I think it gives you that head start coming into England, and we can share our ideas as well.” 

Gareth Southgate’s side reached the semi-finals and a place in the last four for the first time in 22 years. On the way, Stones scored two of his three goals for his country in a 6-1 win against Panama in the group stages.  

England would go one better and make the final two years later at Euro 2020 but it would be a familiar story of heartbreak as they would suffer another penalty shootout heartbreak, this time against Italy at Wembley.  

Stones and central defensive partner Harry Maguire have both received their share of criticism as England’s fortunes have changed.  

But the Yorkshireman’s quality has shone through, battling back against adversity with Guardiola fighting his corner whenever he’s needed to.  

In one memorable press conference, he declared the defender had more personality than anyone else in the room, sharing his admiration for Stones' courage and the way he responds to his demands. 

“I love him,” Guardiola said. “Under pressure, the people criticise him, so I am delighted to have John. With all his huge amount of mistakes. I love him. I love guys with this personality. 

“It is not easy to play central defender with this manager. It's not easy. Other managers - defend there, head there, long balls, channel, channel. 

“You have to defend 40 metres behind and make the build-up so it is not easy.”  

England might still be searching for that elusive international triumph to end the ‘56 years of hurt’ but one thing is for sure, Stones, with 63 caps to his name ahead of his French test, playing a big part in England’s recent rise.  

Now he turns his attention to a World Cup quarter-final with France in Qatar, with Stones and the rest of his England team-mates hoping they can yet return victorious and maybe even emulate Moore.  

And for the defender, an international winner’s medal would sit quite nicely in his already bulging domestic trophy cabinet…