Wednesday 7 December 2016

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Henry Winter

Published 24/09/2011 | 05:00

It was on the train down to London for last April's FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United that City got on the right tracks.

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The tracks were R'n'B, house and a blast of indie music. Joleon Lescott went up and down the carriage with his iPad, getting team-mates to select tunes for the dressing-room for the first time. United's noisy neighbours were about to get noisier.

Roberto Mancini had hitherto not been a fan of loud music pre-match, allowing headphones but not speakers.

"The game before the semi we'd played Liverpool and we could hear their music,'' said Lescott.

"Our dressing-room was quiet. We lost 3-0. The music's not an excuse but I spoke to some of the players, went to management staff and said, 'do you mind if we play some music before games?' They agreed.

"On the train, I got my computer out and went round the tables asking for a couple of songs each from the boys. All random tunes.

"James Milner's more an indie man. Harty (Joe Hart) is more a house guy. It was crazy in the dressing-room at Wembley with the music, everyone was so hyper. We won the semi and never looked back.

"Last year everyone was questioning the bond between players and talking about 'egos' but we knew that wasn't the case. Winning the cup helped that bond. We seem even closer this year."

Lescott himself has accelerated that process, now completely established alongside Vincent Kompany in the heart of Mancini's defence.

"Last season, I'd just got back from injury and Kolo (Toure) and Vinny were doing really well. I couldn't argue but it was a culture shock, the biggest blow of my career, hard to take."

Instead of sulking, he rose to the challenge, working hard with City's coaches and eventually handed his chance when Toure was banned for taking a weight-loss drug.

"The situation with Kolo was disappointing for the club and Kolo but I benefited. Kolo's a really nice guy, who wished me all the best and gave me verdicts on my performances.''

Lescott shone alongside Kompany. "Vinny was playing so well he could have played with Carlos (Tevez)!''

An engaging blend of humility, humour and ambition, Lescott is at the peak of his career, playing well for his club, hungry for success with his country and being guided by Wasserman Media Group, who tend to other England A-listers like Jack Wilshere and Steven Gerrard.

Lescott is mixing with marquee names yet he keeps a low profile off the field, devoting his time to his family, developing a new fashion line with Millwall's Jordan Stewart and also checking player ratings.

"I read match reports and the numbers I'm getting, and I'm thinking, 'phew, I'm glad these reporters aren't picking the team as I'd never play.'

"My friends and I have our own Dream Team league and I need the points for my team Elite XI.

"My friends ring up and say: 'What are you doing? You need to score. It's not good enough. I'm going to take you out the next window!' That's my friends! That's the people I phone when I'm feeling down!

"My little boy picked all his favourite players: Aguero, Rooney, Suarez, Nani, David Silva. Not many ball-winners. I tried to explain that doesn't work, you have to pick some defenders, get a balance.

"I'm picking Nigel de Jong because I'm thinking about clean sheets. But it's all about goals and I'm struggling. I might change my team over to my boy's! Usually he asks for 'Lescott' on his shirt. This year? 'Aguero'. I was disappointed!

"It's crazy when a player like Aguero arrives here. I sit back and think I've come a long way since playing with friends, sneaking on the Astroturf at night (as a kid in Birmingham).''

Lescott was talking at Carrington, at Manchester City's training ground, which will eventually be replaced by the splendid 80-acre Etihad Campus, helping make City "one of the top clubs in the world".

So will players like Aguero, who was in a neighbouring room, having an English lesson.

"Sergio has given himself two and a half months to learn the language. It was the same with David Silva and he's fluent now. Within two days of coming here, Sergio was picking up little phrases like, 'how are you mate?'

"He's started a little fines system himself, which has got every one on his side. He has banned all the foreign boys talking any other language.

"Anyone who talks Spanish, Italian, French around him has to pay £20. He's had to pay the most money so far! We are helping him. Nigel is trying to help but Nigel needs a couple of lessons himself. It's his accent!"

In good mood and form, Lescott relishes the challenges of his old club Everton today, then Bayern Munich on Tuesday.

"The Napoli match was an education with their counter-attacking. We are confident we can beat any team in the Champions League but we still have to show respect. It's about progressing.

"We believe we can win the Premier League. United don't normally start this well. They usually pick up later and then run away with it.

"Hopefully the latter part of this season they will tail off,'' Lescott paused. "I'm sure my youngest wants to be a United fan. He talks about United all the time so I say 'that's impossible in this house.' Kids!"

Talk turned to United's finest. "Rooney's the best striker there is. He's got everything. It really hurts him if he's not winning. Before, he wanted to win and would probably do something silly. Now he's mature, he channels it the right way.

"When I first broke into the England squad (in 2007) it was Steven Gerrard I was in awe of. 'Jesus, that's Steven Gerrard,' I thought.

"He has everything -- presence and his application in training was as if it were a game, yet he's so down to earth it's unreal.''

Now 29, Lescott admits to a frustration with England. "I feel I've stood still with England, like I've been fourth or fifth-choice centre-half for a number of years. It's one thing I am not pleased about. It doesn't help when the captain (John Terry) is playing in your position!

"I don't want this to sound arrogant but I feel that when I've played for England I haven't done anything not to warrant me keeping a place. I have to go there and be professional.

"It's not about me, it's about qualification for the Euros. As long as we do that and I'm given the opportunity to go in that squad I'll be grateful.''

As for Fabio Capello, Lescott is an admirer. "His man-management has been really good recently. When he first got the job it was hard because of the language barrier. Since he learned the language there's no miscommunication. He's passionate about football."

annoyance

So are all the squad, and Lescott admits to annoyance that critics have questioned the likes of Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole.

"I remember speaking to Dave Hancock (the former Chelsea physio) and he said all Frank used to do was go out and do extra shooting.

"That's probably why he scored 20 goals for five years on the trot. Ashley is the best left-back the country's ever had and he still takes stick. For people to criticise those players is crazy.

"People see the cars and houses but players have had to work hard. David Beckham is famously known for free-kicks. He had to practise that week in, week out.

"We do work hard. We have to, as there's always someone like Phil Jones, one of the most exciting players for ages, coming to take our place."

When he can no longer keep the contenders at bay, Lescott will not step into management.

"No. I'm not going to miss another 10-15 years of my family's life, the Christmases and birthdays."

Sounds like the right tracks. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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