Joleon Lescott's lack of status at City puts World Cup dream in doubt

In different circumstances Joleon Lescott might have been on a quick getaway to Paris to help take his mind off another bruising disappointment and the alarming sense that the chance to play in his first World Cup might elude him.

The flights had been booked as a pick-me-up shortly after Lescott received the apologetic telephone call from Roy Hodgson informing him that he was being excluded from England's squad, directly as a consequence of his diminished status at Manchester City. "I was going to go away with my wife for a couple of days," Lescott said. "But she called it. She said: 'We won't be able to go, you know, you'll still get called up'. I just said: 'I hope so.'"

Debbie was right and that is why her husband could be located on the beachfront at Riccione this weekend, on the edge of Rimini, getting ready for the flight into Podgorica for Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Montenegro and trying to make sense of a difficult, untidy season.

It is an unorthodox interview because the Football Association, mindful of aggrieving City, have asked Lescott to keep the subject to England and not discuss club issues when, of course, the two are intrinsically linked. Hodgson, announcing his squad two Thursdays ago, had talked of Lescott being "excellent" for him but concluded that he could not justify picking someone "playing so little football". Lescott, in turn, is pretty realistic about his chances of going to Brazil next summer in his current position as Roberto Mancini's fourth-choice central defender. "Sitting here now, if you'd asked me last year then I'd have said: 'Yeah, pretty good'. But now … I don't know. If I can play more regularly at club level, I think I'll be there."

It is almost certain there will be a parting of the ways this summer. "Towards the end of the season, I'll address that," Lescott replies when asked whether there will be a time when he wants to put the record straight, unshackled. It is a reminder of how quickly football can change, bearing in mind he was a mandatory pick for England at last summer's European Championship and acclaimed for his performances during City's title-winning season.

Lescott is a proud man and his eyes smoulder when asked if there has been a deterioration in form. "I haven't let anyone down. In fact, I'd like to think I'm focused a little bit more because when you don't play regularly you know that when the chance comes you need to prove yourself a bit more. My performances have been quite good this season. It's just, for whatever reason, the manager has seen fit to play whoever he's played."

His chance for England came on the back of injuries to other players and the hoo-ha of Rio Ferdinand pulling out. Conversely, Chris Smalling had made it into the squad despite playing only 17 minutes more football since the turn of the year and was not even on the bench for Manchester United in their final game before Hodgson announced his squad. Yet Lescott had half-expected to be excluded. "I was aware of that [Smalling's lack of games] but the manager told me Chris had played in the last game against Brazil and done very well," Lescott said. "I understood his decision and respected it."

The alternative view is that Hodgson's loyalty might have been more towards a player who had done so well for him in Euro 2012

"Maybe that was the case in the first part of the season when I was playing more regularly," Lescott says. "Off the back of last season, winning the Premier League and going to the Euros and then not playing regularly at City … it shows anything can happen in football. I took nothing for granted.

"Obviously I was not playing as regularly as the other players. Michael [Dawson] and Rio [Ferdinand] were playing regularly and playing well so I fully understand the reasons for not being in there. I don't think the manager owes me anything special more than anyone else."

He admits it is "a concern" that he may not be at his absolute sharpest against a Montenegro team two points ahead of England in Group H.

He will also accept what is becoming abundantly clear when asked whether the standards of English centre-halves has fallen. "Yeah, of course."

The partnership he mentions to illustrate this point is Ferdinand's with John Terry. "It's probably not as strong," he says of his own pairing with Smalling.

"It's going to be a test [in Montenegro], we know that. But it would be a good test for any partnership because they aregood players. We can't guarantee a clean sheet but we can guarantee that we're going to be professional and go about our job well."

This is certainly not someone who is sulking or feeling sorry for himself. "I still enjoy what I do. It's not a struggle to get up in the mornings and go to training. I like to think I'm as professional as everyone else. I keep myself physically and mentally prepared for when I'm needed. I go in [for training] even on days off. I always do that. I learned at an early age that I can't take that many days off due to injuries.

"I don't want to give anyone the excuse or justify the reason that I have not been playing. I always want to give myself the best opportunity."

All of which brings us back to the difficult issue of what it is that Mancini does not like. A lot appears to have changed very quickly, but the truth is that the Italian's misgivings actually go back two summers. It was just that the two central defenders he coveted the most, Thiago Silva and Gerard Piqué, were out of reach so Mancini persisted with Lescott and it worked well.

Yet all the time, the feeling of City's management team was that he was playing at his absolute maximum and that as soon as there was the slightest variation he would not be quite at the level they wanted. It's harsh, but Mancini is a difficult man to please. Lescott, signed for an extravagant £24m from Everton in 2009 to make him the sixth most expensive defender in the world, could be allowed to leave for a quarter of that amount.

The alternative, after all, is that he potentially loses his chance of playing in the biggest competition of them all – and that, plainly, will influence his thinking.

"The Euros were great and if I never played for England again that will go down as the ultimate for me. But to play in the World Cup is everyone's dream.

"No disrespect to the Euros but you don't grow up dreaming of the Euros, you dream of the World Cup. That's the same for everyone and I'm no different."

Powered by article was written by Daniel Taylor, for The Guardian on Sunday 24th March 2013 23.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © mafue

FIFA World Cup 2018FIFA 2018 World Cup Russia - click here for all of our coverage...

Register for MANCHESTER CITY team updates

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch