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Joleon Lescott believes his Manchester City career is finally on the up

By now Joleon Lescott has grown accustomed to what he describes as "the money thing".

Joleon Lescott believes his Manchester City career is finally on the up It can drive him mad sometimes, the way his sport appears to have a near obsession with his price tag and the expectation that accompanies being the third most expensive defender in the world. Most of the time he just deals with it. But there are moments when the fee can weigh him down like a rucksack of bricks.

"There have been times when I wish people would stop going on about it," Lescott says. "I've always said I wouldn't let it bother me but it has been something to hang me from. I'd open the papers and read 'big-money man has not performed again' even though we'd won. It might be 2-1 and I'd think: 'Do you really believe we should be keeping a clean sheet every week just because I cost a lot of money?' Sorry, but it doesn't work like that."

There has been a fair bit of negative press since Lescott joined Manchester City from Everton 17 months ago. The rich always get judged differently. And English football can be a remarkably impatient business, particularly when the player in question costs £24m and is struggling to hold down a place in his team. Lescott, by his own admission, is only now replicating the form that saw him sweep up player of the year trophies at Goodison Park. Before this point it has been a wild graph of ups and downs and there did come a time when he wondered whether he had lost the trust of Roberto Mancini.

Ask him to think of the most difficult moment and he identifies the game against Arsenal last October. Kolo Touré was missing and Mancini decided it would be safer to choose the then 19-year-old Dedryck Boyata to partner Vincent Kompany at the heart of defence. "That hurt," Lescott says. Boyata was sent off inside the opening five minutes for a professional foul and, after a 3-0 defeat, Mancini's explanation was that Lescott had been left out because he had played in a Europa League tie three days earlier. It did not stack up (Boyata played in the same match) and Lescott burned with indignation. "It hurt a lot. No disrespect to Dedryck because he's going to be a great player but that was the one moment I'd pick out. It was hard to take."

By December Lescott had started back-to-back Premier League games once and was openly admitting he would contemplate leaving in the transfer window. He knew it would probably mean downgrading clubs but the frustration was building.

"I just wanted to play and at that time it was hard for me. Yes, the life of a Premier League footballer is great but it doesn't matter if you cost £10 if you're not playing; you're not worth it, are you? You don't want to be left out. I was playing a few games here and therebut not the games you want to play. I was playing the majority of the Europa League games but I wasn't really involved when it came to the recognisable games in the Premier League. Frustration is the right word."

Three months on this is a much happier Lescott talking from an office at City's practice ground. Training has finished for another day but Lescott has hung around to have a look at the 15-seat minibus that the club, with a £10,000 donation, have helped Community Transport Manchester to fund. He has a test drive and is shown how to use the wheelchair lift (Micah Richards volunteers as the passenger). The mood is light, full of levity and banter, and Lescott clearly seems lifted by the run of nine successive starts that constitutes his longest sequence by some distance since Mancini replaced Mark Hughes two Christmases ago.

Finally, it seems, Mancini is demonstrating the same trust in Lescott that Fabio Capello has shown in terms of retaining him in the England squad. Capello once said he would not choose players who could not get into their club sides but he has made an exception with Lescott. "I've been surprised myself," the player says. "I was worried because I knew what had been said and I did think that, not featuring in the recognised games, I might be left out. To be honest, it would have been expected. I never took it for granted."

But it was a strange time. Lescott played alongside Rio Ferdinand in England's defence against Montenegro 12 days before the game against Arsenal that was to be the low point of his City career. He is slowly coming to terms with the fact that this is Mancini's way. The Italian changed his central defensive partnership in 16 successive matches over a 10-week period from the 4-0 win over Aston Villa on 28 December before settling on the current pair of Lescott and Kompany. "It makes you feel a bit more nervous going into games," Lescott says. "You know you have to perform. You know you can't let anyone down."

It is a measure of Lescott's uncertainty at the time that he was "surprised" to be picked for the derby at Manchester United a month ago. He played well, despite City losing, and now he is getting the rewards there is a sense of vindication. "A year is a long time to settle in but, if you're not playing, you're going to need that time. I was always confident I could perform if I was playing regularly. But you need that run of games to be at your best."

He has sympathy for Touré, the player whose place he has taken and who is now facing a lengthy ban for testing positive for a banned substance. "I see him every day and he's as well as you could expect. He wants to play, he wants to be involved. It's OK coming in for training every day but, if there's nothing at the end of it, it's going to be hard. Kolo's a good guy and he's got the support of the whole club."

But football is a hard-headed business. Lescott had replaced Touré before it emerged the Ivorian may have made a terrible error experimenting with his wife's slimming pills and he knows he has to grasp this opportunity. He is 29 in August, approaching the point of his career where a central defender should be at his peak and, though it has been difficult at times, there is an appreciation that a man with Mancini's near obsession with clean sheets can help him.

"I went to see him a number of times [when I was out of the team]. I want to improve so, if there's something I'm doing he doesn't like, I want to know what it is. He's told me a few things, how I should be preparing, and hopefully the reason I'm in the team now is because I've taken that on board."

The two-legged defeat to Dynamo Kyiv has ruled out another potential trophy but the incentives are still there for City. they travel to Chelsea for a fixture that could have a considerable say in whether Mancini's team qualify for the Champions League. Then there is the small matter of City's first FA Cup semi-final for 30 years and their first ever encounter with Manchester United at Wembley.

"We owe them one," Lescott says. "In fact, we owe them a few." He believes "the potential of this club is as great as United's" but he also knows it will take time. "It's possible, but not in, say, my career. Even if we won the championship for the next four years, we wouldn't be at their level. They have their history, they have won titles over a number a years. Our club has a long way to go when it comes to creating that kind of history."

Yet City are getting closer. "I think they know that, too," he says, and on a personal level he feels he has been vindicated in his decision to leave Everton. He and David Moyes parted on bad terms – "It was hard to see all the negative stuff that people came out with," Lescott says – and have not spoken since. But Lescott, albeit belatedly, is finally getting that old feeling back. It is called job satisfaction – and in the process he is starting to show why City thought he was worth so much in the first place.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Daniel Taylor, for The Guardian on Saturday 19th March 2011 00.08 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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