LONDON • Who knows what would have happened had Everton found the money? It was January 2013 and David Moyes needed cash for a new striker.
Everton were fifth in the league but successive 0-0 draws with Swansea and Southampton underlined their attacking shortcomings.
The most Moyes was allowed to spend, however, was about £1 million (S$2.2 million).
He knew he could not even get a League One centre-forward for that so he spoke to his scouts and they had an alternative idea.
It led him to Barnsley.
A NATURAL FIT
He looked this young, thin boy but he had a natural comfort on the ball, a comfort that didn't look coached or taught but was just something he'd got. You could see he'd need to get stronger and work on his speed, but his ability to take the ball was special.
DAVID MOYES, former Everton manager, on young English defender John Stones
When he signed Joleon Lescott from the Championship, he watched him 22 times to make certain he could handle the Premier League. John Stones?
He needed to see him only once.
"He looked this young, thin boy but he had a natural comfort on the ball, a comfort that didn't look coached or taught but was just something he'd got.
"You could see he'd need to get stronger and work on his speed but his ability to take the ball was special," Moyes recalls.
"It's something you don't see a lot in British defenders and that's what made him stand out.
"He's the most comfortable English central defender on the ball I've seen since Rio Ferdinand.
"He reads the game and he's calm in possession, a natural footballer.
"He has an ability to not look under any pressure."
Stones, Moyes predicts, "will be an England defender for a long time". He is 21, and was 18 when he left Barnsley for Goodison Park.
A fee of £3 million is regularly quoted but Moyes, in his last transfer before leaving for Manchester United, handed over £1.25 million for the new Rio.
Now, Stones is being eyed again.
Chelsea, throughout the transfer window, have worked on trying to prise him away and, last Monday, made a £30 million offer.
It was rejected, just like two previous bids. A final offer is imminent and it will be in excess of the £31 million that United paid Southampton for Luke Shaw last year, the record fee for a British defender.
It could be as high as £40 million, including performance-based add-ons, although informed sources say £35 million guaranteed is what Everton need.
Aside from composure on a pitch, composure as a person is also the thing that strikes people in football about Stones, who started against Manchester City yesterday, uncomplaining, unfazed.
Being too stressed by speculation to play? That is for the Raheem Sterlings and David de Geas of this world.
"That's down to him as a person and he's got good friends around him here," says Everton defender Phil Jagielka. "It's a test and if he plays well in the next few games, it can only put him in a better light."
While at Sheffield United, Jagielka lived just outside Penistone, the South Yorkshire market town where Stones was raised and went to grammar school.
Stones was a promising, but not outstanding, talent then.
At Barnsley, he was even kept back a year and made to play with younger boys, before a growth spurt which, in Stones' own words, was "a life changer".
"My size changed and, with that, I think my mentality changed too," said Stones, now 1.88m.
Moyes, now manager of Spanish Primera Liga club Real Sociedad, believes Stones can only improve.
"As a young boy, John took some risks but his decision-making got better and better and we played him at right-back for experience," he said.
"He will need time and, at his age, he'll make mistakes.
"There'll be days he does things that he will learn from, so people need to be patient. But England could have a top, top centre-back if he's allowed to develop.
"The way football is getting played now, the centre-backs have more touches than midfielders do.
"It's often their job to start the moves and John's attributes are perfect for that." THE TIMES, LONDON