MANCHESTER – Invited into the locker room of English champion Manchester City after their game, the journeymen players of fourth-tier English team Port Vale got a chance to meet in person some of the world’s superstar footballers.
One encounter, however, sounds like it was particularly frosty.
Tom Pope, Port Vale’s striker, said it was “a little bit awkward” when he came face to face with City defender John Stones after City’s 4-1 win in the FA Cup on Saturday.
“John wouldn't speak to me,” Pope said. "I shook his hand but he wasn't too happy."
There’s a reason for that.
After an error-riddled display by Stones for England against the Netherlands in the Nations League finals in June, Pope had tweeted that he’d “love to play … every week” against the City center back who he described as “soft” and “weak.”
“I’d get 40 a season!” Pope added.
As fate would have it, Port Vale was drawn to play against City in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday and it was Pope who scored the visitors’ goal that made it 1-1 at the time.
Stones wasn’t marking Pope on that occasion but he did have a pass intercepted by the striker, leading to a chance for Port Vale later in the game.
"It was only banter and people have dug it up because we've drawn Man City,” Pope said about those tweets from last summer. “All of a sudden, it's everywhere and people have been on my case about it.
"He's a world-class center half. I was just saying he wasn't very physical and that's it. If people think I'm wrong ... well, I don't care.”
It appears that Stones took the comments personally.
"I spoke to (City left back Benjamin) Mendy and he said all their players had battered him (Stones) for weeks about it and they got him that wound up about it,” Pope told reporters after the game. “And then obviously I've scored and he's probably devastated.
"But I was just hoping I got a half chance to try to put one away. The last thing you want to do is get beaten 7-0 after everything that's gone on Twitter, not score and everyone laugh. It was nice to shut a few people up to back up what I said but it's water off a duck's back.”
Pope took to Twitter again a few hours after the match to wind up Stones even more.
"I'd just like to say,” Pope wrote, “I was completely wrong and bang out of order to say I'd score 40 a season..... it's more like 50."