Gerard Pique
Pique has admitted his admiration for John StonesGetty Images

Former Manchester United defender Gerard Pique has admitted his admiration for John Stones after suggesting the Everton starlet can be the long-term replacement of Rio Ferdinand in the England national team. Stones has reportedly attracted the attention of a number of big clubs including Chelsea and Barcelona in recent months, having emerged as one of the most promising talents in English football.

The Daily Mirror recently claimed Chelsea are ready to return with a fresh bid for the Everton centre-back during the January transfer window after four bids for the player were rejected in the summer. Mundo Deportivo later suggested Barcelona were planning to battle with the Blues for his services to partner him with Pique himself in the heart of Luis Enrique's defence.

Pique failed to address that speculation but speaking ahead of the Spain friendly against England on 13 November, he compared the 21-year-old with Ferdinand.

"Rio Ferdinand and John Terry were the two main central defenders in England. Top-level," Pique said to The Telegraph. "Now I think John Stones is a really, really, good player. He will have a good career. He's like Rio, a bit. He's young and alongside him they probably need one who is more experienced. Jagielka is injured. But Smalling is playing well at Manchester United.

"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. And this is something that 10 years ago [in England] they didn't understand. Rio was the first one who did it. And now there is Stones, he's one of the new generation who understand football not just as a defender."

The Barcelona centre-back, meanwhile, has claimed that he enjoyed his days in the Premier League but the return to the Nou Camp in 2008 was like a dream come true. He admits he had to go back to La Liga after failing to breakthrough at United due to the presence of both Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.

"The centre-backs – Rio Ferdinand, Vidic. I was really unlucky! They never got injured – then I left and then they started to get injuries! This is football but I'm not really worried," he said. "It's true that I was happy in Manchester even though I didn't play as much as I wanted to. But the day I finally signed for Barcelona and I came back it was 'wow, the dream comes true'. After this we won a lot of titles and other dreams come true but the main one was playing for the club that I had supported all my life.

"It's not something I can explain with words. Imagine – since I was five years old I had gone every week to the stadium, following this team. I remember everything - all the teams every year; all the players. From one day to the other you are supporting the team and then you are inside the dressing room with the players."