The sight of John Stones lining up alongside Gary Cahill would have become a weekly occurrence if things had panned out differently.

Chelsea made a concerted effort to buy the talented centre-back in 2015, lodging three separate bids eventually reaching £30million in one of those protracted transfer sagas which more often than not end with the selling club being forced to yield.

Stones was sufficiently moved by the interest to hand in a transfer request to help break the impasse but Everton’s stance remained unaltered and talks collapsed. 

Twelve months later, Chelsea’s interest had cooled with Antonio Conte eventually replacing Jose Mourinho as manager, allowing Manchester City to complete a £47.5million deal as Pep Guardiola’s overhaul began in earnest.

And so instead of learning from Cahill on a weekly basis, Vincent Kompany became the example for Stones to follow. 

However, the 23-year-old revealed Cahill has still had a major bearing on his career, having quickly forged a close relationship with one of the most senior members of the squad, which dates back to Roy Hodgson’s decision to involve Stones in England’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup.

“From the start, he was very welcoming,” Stones told Standard Sport. “I came into quite a big squad, a lot of big players that aren’t playing anymore and Gaz was always very intelligent with how he spoke to me and when he did.

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“That’s better than always having an arm around you constantly to make you feel welcome. Gary is an experienced player at international level and in the Premier League so I have always enjoyed playing with him, training with him and no matter who is on the pitch beside me, I think we have always got that team spirit. 

“Whoever is on the pitch can do that job but Gary has been very influential for me.”

Stones and Cahill first became team-mates when the former made his debut in a World Cup warm-up game against Peru at Wembley in May 2014. 

Hodgson was convinced of his potential to the extent Stones was named on the standby list for the World Cup and then retained alongside Jon Flanagan in addition to the 23-man squad for their pre-tournament warm-weather training camp in Miami.

England were knocked out within eight days after defeats to Italy and Uruguay but Stones believes the opportunity has proved crucial to his development. 

“It came as a bit of a shock but it was very valuable,” he said. “I was disappointed for the team, knowing how hard they had worked in all the games before the World Cup. 

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“They were in great shape, trained well, played the pre-World Cup friendlies well but got there and it didn’t work out. It was gutting to see that because I knew how much hard work had gone on in the background, how much time, not just from the players but the staff, people were [putting in]. 

“I was gaining the experience of what it would be like to be in that build-up of such a major tournament with such good players who have got 80, 90, 100 caps. To gain experience off those players was massive and gave me a feeling of knowing how to take it into a tournament. It was priceless to me.”

After a mixed debut season, Stones has seized an opportunity created by Kompany’s absence due to calf problem to become a pivotal figure in a City defence which has conceded just once in seven games since the skipper was sidelined.

Stones believes his performance in last weekend’s 1-0 win at Chelsea – in which Cahill also played 90 minutes – was among the best of his career and with Phil Jones ruled out of Thursday’s World Cup qualifier against Slovenia through injury, Southgate may turn in his direction.

(Getty Images)

He has 18 caps to his name but has started just three competitive matches and was an unused member of Hodgson’s Euro 2016 squad, where he had another prime spot to witness England’s shortcomings.

Southgate’s attempts to improve their fortunes have extended to experimenting with a three-man defence, en vogue in the Premier League these days with City among the most effective exponents.

Stones’ last England appearance came alongside Jones and Cahill in June’s 3-2 friendly defeat to France and although Southgate is likely to revert to a back four this week, that versatility could be an important tool in Russia next summer.

“We have done it at City this season,” added Stones. “We have played with a four, a three and tried to put our gameplan against the opposition, play different systems, different target men or with different strikers. 

“It is great that we are flexible in playing both systems and having that string to our bow. The aim is to qualify and do that as soon as possible. If we look back at some of the games away from home when we have drawn, we look at them as a good point. 

“We cannot underestimate the teams we come up against. Some will say we should win every game but it is a tough group, it is 11 v 11, there are no easy games.”

Spoken like an established international of many years. Cahill would surely approve.