by Daisy Cutter
England under Roy Hodgson have made themselves hard to beat whilst Steven Gerrard is leading by example, so far putting in three blinding assists in three games. In Theo Walcott meanwhile we possess a game-changer capable of devastating cameos plus of course there is the dreamweaver himself – our sole world class talent according to some – whose contribution thus far may only extend to a nod of his simian neck but inevitably is hogging all the headlines.
The above, and others, have been attributed for the cautious optimism that is seeping through the nation as England progress from Group D unbeaten. However, while they are factors all deserving of note the man who is quietly going about his business in an assured manner, nullifying the threat of Benzema, Ibra and co, has barely raised a mention.
Joleon Lescott. You know the guy – over twenty million quid’s worth of defender who looks like a Klingon, or so those hilarious japesters on Twitter had it when he muscled off his marker and thumped home England’s critical point-earner v France.
So let’s get this straight; an unassuming family man who bears a prominent scar from a childhood car accident puts in three outstanding shifts for his country and scores the goal that sets them on their tournament way. For this he is met with cruel jibes on his appearance and beyond that not a whisper of appreciation.
Rooney meanwhile – a family man with a propensity for banging elderly prostitutes and someone so vain with his appearance that he has Frankensteined his scalp – lashes out petulantly in Montenegro making himself ineligible for the first two crucial matches. On his return he is notably ring-rusty and persistently loses possession thereby jeopardising our hopes. He however is lauded as our saviour.
Both left Everton for big-money moves to Manchester. Both scored from close range with heads that, let’s face it, weren’t exactly chiselled from a George Clooney mould. Yet the player who is deserving of our praise and gratitude is over-looked for the tabloid superstar who presently deserves anything but. This country is sometimes so shallow and stupid it makes me want to weep.
Even within the defence that Lescott is marshalling so assertively he remains an unsung figure. To the naked eye it might appear that Terry is playing well, what with his goal-line(ish) clearances and dramatic lunges, but it’s worth remembering that most of these acts were necessary due to a failing on his behalf in the first place, usually deriving from his sluggish pace or being pulled out of position. Ashley Cole meanwhile has consistently found himself in no-man’s land, mystifyingly losing one of his career strengths in knowing when to go and when to hold back whilst across the park Glen Johnson has admittedly improved greatly from a worryingly haphazard opener where he required wet-nursing throughout.
All of these short-comings have been compensated with flawless displays from Lescott who, lest we forget, is doing so in the unfamiliar berth on the right to accommodate the dismally one-footed Terry. Shifting across a few yards may not seem a significant adjustment but ask any centre-back and they’ll tell you it’s as difficult as a full-back switching flanks. Has he complained? Of course not. Lescott embodies the quiet fortitude that is the true trait of a typical Englishman and while his partner charges around like a chav Henry V he goes about his job diligently and without fuss or bluster.
He has been immense – understated but immense – and this is by no means a recent development.
When Joleon first arrived at City his inflated price tag saddled around his neck and visibly affected his performances. On the few occasions he managed to temporarily break up the Toure/Kompany partnership he looked tremulous in possession, his first thought appearing to be “What does Mancini expect me to do here?” Consequently he was caught dawdling on numerous occasions and was in danger of gaining a gaffe-prone reputation.
Bluntly put the best thing that happened to the likable Brummie was Kolo’s drugs ban which immediately cemented his place in the starting XI no matter how he performed in any given game. Soon after a new Lescott emerged – or more accurately the Everton Lescott of old – and alongside the stylish colossus Kompany a formidable bedrock was formed that led to Manchester City conceding a miserly 29 goals throughout all of last season. And while he may still have a tendency to dilly-dally in areas he really shouldn’t his effortless shepherding of pacy front men into the channels and his brute strength sprawling the burly variety fairly to the deck has played a significant part in City’s ultimate attainment of glory.
For 18 months now England have possessed a defender the likes of Italy would ruthlessly scythe down their grandmothers to have yet he remains criminally under-rated beyond the Etihad. Perhaps everyone has been too distracted by the farcical contention of the captaincy issue between two past-it stoppers in Rio and Terry to properly notice?
Watching One Night In Turin the other evening, the documentary about England’s Italia 90 campaign, I was struck by how pivotal a role Mark Wright played in taking us two kicks from immortality. Alongside the bleeding lion Butcher his stylish, deceptively casual stewardship at the back proved to be a perfect compliment and coincidentally he too nodded home a close-range crucial effort against Egypt.
Naturally it was Gazza, Lineker et al who have continued to be lavished with the acclaim.
Perhaps it’s the centre-back’s lot in life to remain unappreciated and this is certainly true with Lescott. Especially when it’s all achieved with such quiet authority.