Rob Wilson bids a reluctant farewell to a player who will always be top of the league in Blues’ eyes.
Saying goodbye to someone you’ve shared precious memories with is torturous. You spend your life creating as many memories as possible because one day they become all we have left. I don’t know who said that. Whatever. I’m claiming it. Time, the bastard. It certainly does its best to prize the past out of your hands when all you want to do is resist linear progression. At a guess, from my small flat in north Manchester, I’d imagine that’s how a good number of Manchester City fans will feel when midnight strikes on July 1, 2014. That will be the moment when Joleon Lescott’s time at Manchester City will officially come to an end, most likely forever.
All of the memories, trophies, last-ditch headers and scrappy goals from set-pieces will become nothing more than memories. And for one thing, I’m bloody gutted – I understand why it has to happen, and Joleon understands why it has to happen, but that really doesn’t make it any easier. God, it feels like putting down the family dog.
Lescott is the player who has most accurately represented the rise of the club over the last 5 years, for me at least. But while the tears are flowing and the minor key piano thuds away behind that interview which is currently up on Manchester City’s website, it’s wise, and perhaps crucial, to remember that Lescott’s time at the club wasn’t always the harmonious family gathering he’s departing from. It’s worth remembering that he only arrived after a very expensive tug of war between former Manchester United failure, David Moyes, and that bloke. You know the one. The first man to have a pop at spending millions to improve Manchester City: Mark Hughes. And amongst the piles of gold thrown at the walls of Roque Santa Cruz, Tal Ben Haim, Robinho and Emmanuel Adebayor, something eventually stuck to Joleon Lescott.
The first few months of Lescott’s City career were difficult, for both the fans and Joleon himself. Benched by Hughes, and then by Mancini for a short while, Lescott struggled to get a much needed run in the side. And whenever he did play, torrents of abuse were volleyed at him by an often angry City of Manchester Stadium crowd, as it was known then, who were struggling to fully come to terms with a change in mentality and expanding ambitions.
At the beginning of the 2010-11 season, new City manager Roberto Mancini removed the captaincy from Kolo Toure’s left arm and placed it upon the bicep of Carlos Tevez, but Lescott’s role in the side remained as sporadic as ever. Barring a few standout moments, this was largely the case until City were forced into action on the eve of a date with Wembley. An unfortunate drugs ban handed to Kolo Toure in March 2011 saw Joleon Lescott promoted by default into centre-back alongside Vincent Kompany for the remainder of the season.
This meant he could stand tall against Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final and send City to their first major trophy in 35 years, and it also meant he could head in the goal away to Bolton Wanderers which confirmed Manchester City’s first ever appearance in the Champions’ League. In a very short space of time Lescott became a vital cog in the meanest defence in the country.
It was no coincidence that Lescott’s fortunes suddenly changed once a manager with defensive expertise took the helm at Manchester City and he repaid the faith Mancini had in him, returning an FA Cup and a Premier League title in the process. His contribution to that title-winning season before that famous final day meant that the dramatic events, all soundtracked by a screaming Martin Tyler, could even take place. Vital goals against Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur, as well as key defensive performances in the biggest Manchester derby to date in April 2012, and away to Newcastle on the following Sunday, were crucial. Lescott was more than a cog by this stage, he was a rock. On the day Sergio Aguero rifled the ball beyond QPR goalkeeper Paddy Kenny and won the Premier League title for Manchester City, Lescott did start the drama all by himself by inadvertently heading the ball into the path of Djibril Cissé who then proceeded to thump it low past Joe Hart into the corner.
Thankfully, we all know the rest went to plan. And speaking to Sky after order was so memorably restored on that day, Lescott spoke of the fear he’d pushed onto his shoulders with the mistake. If he’d been to blame for City throwing the title away in the most embarrassing of circumstances, I doubt he would have lived it down. Thankfully, he didn’t have to. That tug of war which brought Lescott to Manchester City was ugly. Our reputation around the country was spoiled by David Moyes’ very public outbursts against our pursuit, but it was bloody worth it. Lescott came to City at a time of difficult transition and steadied the ship impeccably. His transfer outlined a new strategy: one of thought, one of care. A team which had shipped 27 goals in 17 games at one point during 2009 needed a solid presence, and boy was Lescott ready to stand up when the call came. As City became a force in English football, Lescott became one of the best defenders.
To the rest of the world, Lescott’s career will perhaps remain under the shadow of his world class partner, but not to the City fans who sing his name. Lescott’s very own chant roared atop some the memories he helped create due to its lyrical content – and for that reason alone Lescott will always be remembered fondly on the Etihad terraces. So thank you, Joleon. You’ve been a huge part of creating the memories we City fans never thought we’d see. Your name is now up there with the greying legends who still walk the corridors of the Etihad Stadium almost half a century after they played for the club. You’re welcome back any time you want, and I mean that. We all mean that. Our new horizons might not have you as a feature, and it seems that the decision which means you have to leave the club is best for all involved. But you leave the club in the only place you belong, and that’s top of the league. Thank you.