Few footballing comebacks have been more inspirational this season than John Stones.
More in than out for Manchester City last season, he barely featured after football’s restart last June.
During the early part of the current campaign he found himself behind Aymeric Laporte, Eric García and new signings Rúben Dias and Nathan Aké in the Etihad pecking order.
Many expected him to leave, at the very least on loan. Stones appeared to have reached the end of the line at the club where he’d arrived as the world’s second most expensive defender in 2016.
Those writing him off, however, reckoned without Stones’ refusal to accept defeat. The 26-year-old defender battled his way back into the side and into Pep Guardiola’s long-term thinking for a team that would reclaim the Premier League title and reach the Champions League final.
“I wanted to prove to myself – no-one else – prove to myself that I deserve to be where I am,” he said.
“Also to my teammates. I wanted to show what I could bring to the team.
“I had to come out of a situation that I didn’t want to be in. That no footballer wants to be in, not playing or not contributing.
“So I went away and looked at everything and fought hard to get back into the team. That comes with them playing well and playing consistently.
“I’m extremely proud of myself, but I couldn’t have done it without other people and my teammates.
“To reach the end of the season with two trophies, a semi final and another final with the Champions League this weekend, its something that I’m extremely proud of, on a personal note.”
The irony of Saturday’s opposition is that Chelsea tried repeatedly to sign Stones before City swooped to land his signature five years ago.
He added: “It speaks volumes about the Premier League and the calibre of teams competing against the best teams in the world, that two English teams can end up in the Champions League Final.
“We’ve played each other three times this year, four at the weekend. It will be something that we are used to – but not used to.
“A different environment, a different feeling, but have more knowledge on them maybe than teams in other countries.”
Such has been the impressive nature of Stones’ performances, many fans and neutrals cannot now see a City team without the England centre-back in it.
Nor can they see an England team without him at next month’s European Championship Finals.
He puts that down to the influence of City boss Pep Guardiola whom he believes is one of the greats.
“I’ve had a lot of great managers, one sadly that’s decided to step down in Roy Hodgson, Roberto Martinez, I was with David Moyes for a spell at Everton as well.
“The list kind of goes on right back to my days at Barnsley – and they were all great managers in their own way.
“But this is the longest period I’ve spent with a single manager so I’ve been able to see how dedicated his winning mentality is.”