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Joleon Lescott: Man City's Mr Clean

Saturday, 19 January 2013 - 6:30pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
The top flight's best-behaved defender tells Mark Ogden of his outrage over Kompany's dismissal and reveals his own red-card 'shame'.

Joleon Lescott still bristles with a sense of injustice when he ponders Vincent Kompany's red card against Arsenal last Sunday and recalls the last time he himself suffered the ignominy of being sent off. It is clearly something that has been bothering the Manchester City defender for some time. Eleven years, one month and seven days, to be precise, and Lescott continues to regard it as an unjust stain on his record as the Premier League's cleanest defender.

"The only straight red card I have had was against City at Maine Road [in December 2001]," Lescott recalls. "That was never a foul either. I was playing for Wolves, it was only my second season, and it was an incident with Ali Benarbia. He made a meal of it after I tackled him, so that didn't help the situation.

"I was also sent off in my first season for Wolves, against Oxford for two yellows, so I've only been shown a straight red once and I shouldn't have been."

To put Lescott's Maine Road 'shame' into context, the Wolves manager at the time, Dave Jones, claimed: "It's a good job the advertising boards were there otherwise the fella [Benarbia] would have rolled into Moss Side. I don't think I am biased when I see a bad tackle, but I think we were cheated today."

In a week when defenders and referees have been united in their confusion over the interpretation of the law governing tackling in the wake of Kompany's dismissal at Arsenal - later overturned on appeal - Lescott could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss has been about.

No top-flight centre half can match the 30-year-old's record of having avoided a red card for more than a decade and although the England defender has been booked four times this season, he collected just one yellow card in each of the previous three.

While Kompany's habit of sliding into tackles has prompted City manager Roberto Mancini to urge the Belgian to reconsider his approach, Lescott has always adhered to the maxim that good defenders are those who do not end up with mud on their shorts.

"I was always brought up with youth-team coaches telling me that prevention is better than cure." Lescott said.

"Basically, if you can prevent something from happening, you won't have to risk yourself or your team by doing something later on. I pride myself on my record and hopefully it shows that I am good at reading the game. As a defender, you need to be able to do that.

"I'm not as quick as somebody like Sergio Aguero, for instance, so that means I have to see things before they happen. Being able to intercept the ball and read the game is an art-form. I don't want to upset any City fans here, but when you look at somebody like Rio Ferdinand, his whole career has been about reading the game. Yes, he has been blessed with pace, but he never puts himself in an uncomfortable position where he is relying on tackles to deal with any danger.

"Obviously, if there is a ball there that you think you can win, you are going to go in for it. The situation with Vinny was unfortunate in that he got sent off, but it was the right outcome that it was rescinded.

"I can understand why it is hard for the referees, though. They have to know what is right and wrong and then make a decision on the back of that."

Lescott - who insisted it was "harsh" that assistant referee John Brooks was dropped from last Tuesday's West Bromwich Albion v Queens Park Rangers FA Cup replay for a "bit of banter" when telling the defender to thank the City fans for paying 62 pounds to watch last week's game at Arsenal - could be a victim of Kompany's reprieve if Mancini pairs his captain with Matija Nastasic against Fulham today.

Nastasic's emergence since arriving from Fiorentina last August has left Lescott, a stalwart of City's title-winning season, reduced to just eight league starts this term.

Lack of opportunities prompted Lescott to discuss his prospects with Mancini in November. The manager admitted he would consider loan offers this month, but having seen his involvement increase in recent weeks, Lescott, a 22 million pounds signing from Everton, admits he is now determined to stay.

"I came to the club to win trophies. I have done that and I feel there is a chance to win more this season." Lescott said. "So I am more than happy to stay and fight for a place in the team. I went to see the manager about my situation and what we said will stay between us, but we both came out of the conversation happy and content with what we spoke about.

"While I would like to start every game, I am also aware that, with the strength of the squad, that just isn't going to happen, but I am more than happy to play my part whenever needed."

Lescott's reduced workload this season has been partly due to Mancini's aversion to playing with two left-footed centre-halves.

With Nastasic naturally left-sided, Lescott admits the pair are fighting for one place, even though he is prepared to prove Mancini wrong by playing on the right side of the central pairing.

"I don't know why the manager doesn't like to have two left-footed centre-halves together, but it is something he has mentioned." Lescott said. "I am sure, though, that if Matija and I had to play together, there wouldn't be any hesitation from either of us to play on the right side.

"Saying that, I've never played there. There were never many left-sided centre-halves when I was growing up, so I have always played on the left of the defence. There are plenty of right-footed players who have played on the left, though, so if I ever had to do it, I am sure it wouldn't be a problem and I could adapt to it pretty easily."

With City trailing leaders United by seven points going into this weekend's fixtures, Lescott admits that their neighbours' trip to Tottenham tomorrow offers hope of a slip-up.

But after last season's dramatic surge to the title, the England defender claims there is no sense of panic at the Etihad.

Lescott, speaking at a signing session in City's Manchester club store, said: "We can't rely on anyone to pick up points against United, but we are hopeful that somebody does and Spurs is a tough game for them Any away game is tough, as they found out last season when they lost to Wigan.

"Last season proved what can happen in the title race and winning it probably gives you more drive and desire to want to retain it. You know what it's about and, after the last game of the season, we know we can go right to the whistle of the very final game."

 


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